We swallowed the bitter, now for the sweet - let’s talk defense.
The fun part of the story on Saturday was Todd Orlando’s full-blown flummoxing of Coach Mullet and the ferocious Oklahoma State offense. The primary tool in Orlando’s arsenal was a Dime package with a three-man line (frequently manned by super subs like Breckyn Hager, Taquon Graham and Shark McCulloch), Malik and Gary Johnson rounding out a five-man box and John Bonney essentially subbing in for the B-backer and roving from the short middle to the sideline.
The overall strategy was terrific against a banged-up Oklahoma State offensive front. Rather than go blitz-happy and give dangerous receivers like Washington, Ateman and
Sollozo McClesky shots at one-play scores, Orlando trusted his troops up front to fight the run game to a draw while he deployed his resources on the back end. Tactically there was a good mix of (mainly) Man Under and some Cover Four/Cover Six looks with a smattering of four-man blitzes, but this game plan clicked because guys at all three levels won their individual physical (and mental) battles throughout the day.
The defensive front did yeoman’s work in a three-on-five matchup. Orlando continued his recent trend of asking his guys to do more stack-and-shed two-gap work, and Charles Omenihu in particular stood out in using his length to control the Cowboys’ right tackle and make plays to either side. But gap-shooting disruption and lateral movement were still the primary asks, and the boys up front delivered. Poona Ford, Chris Nelson and Malcolm Roach all did their customary fine work, but a couple of guys who particularly stood out were Breckyn Hager and Taquon Graham. Hager abetted an impressive pass rush performance with some strong work knifing in (and spinning out) against the run, and Graham mixed disruption with some solid anchor-dropping when he subbed in at nose. Given Orlando’s love of gap-shooting havoc at that position, we’ll probably see a lot more of Graham over the center before his time on the 40 is done.
The linebacking was handled ably by Malik at the Mac spot and Gary Johnson at Rover as both guys diagnosed and shot gaps like they had rockets up their asses. Malik in particular also did a great job of working around and ripping through blockers while Johnson’s instinctive ability to scrape and attack when the DL in front of him crosses his face makes him a menace on anything that bounces outside.
The DB’s more than held their end of the bargain, getting involved with big hits against the run and quick passing game while all but silencing Okie State’s downfield air show. It wasn’t a totally clean sheet - PJ Locke caught a break when McClesky failed to catch what would have been a 40+ yard seam TD, Marcel Ateman got loose for a 66-yarder to tee up the tying field goal and Brandon Jones dropped what could have been a decisive INT in the late fourth quarter. But by and large the outside corners kicked ass against the Big XII’s scariest wideout corps, the safeties provided able assistance over the top and the Locke/Bonney combo kept too many leaks from springing underneath.
Orlando probably won’t be able to turn the exact same trick against more accomplished (and healthy) O-lines like TCU and West Virginia, but his continued excellence in opponent-specific game planning and getting the most out of his troops means that we’ll go into each contest ready to give opponents our best shot.