By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s been a few years in the making, but the Oklahoma State defense is starting to see the more polished product of having to play young athletes over the past few seasons.
A game like Saturday’s grind-it-out victory over Texas Christian University was the perfect showcase of those once youthful talents, shining as veterans when needed most.
With the Oklahoma State offense struggling to score once again, the defense that sports seven seniors in the starting 11 — and another four on the two-deep — continues to be the bright spot for the Cowboys.
“It feels good right now. I’ve been playing with these guys for so long, so it’s just great to be able to be a part of such a mature defense,” senior linebacker Caleb Lavey said. “But one of the great things about being a part of a defense with some older guys, is that we know we have to stay humble and stay hungry because we’re going to be playing so many great offenses throughout the year that we can’t get complacent and think that we’ve arrived.”
For the second-straight game, the defense forced at least four takeaways — hauling in three interceptions and a fumble recovery against TCU. The Horned Frogs had three straight drives halted by turnovers in the second quarter.
With the offense getting the ball inside TCU’s 40-yard line on all three instances, the first one turned into a short 37-yard touchdown drive for OSU’s offense, while the other two resulted in a turnover on downs and a missed field goal in the red zone.
While OSU has some talented, young players in the mix, it has been those seniors that have been making the game-changing plays. All four of Oklahoma State’s takeaways on Saturday came from senior players — Lavey with an interception and a fumble recovery, while safety Daytawion Lowe interception a tipped pass at the line and cornerback Justin Gilbert picked off his third pass of the year.
“It’s a huge advantage for us to have those older guys because of the leadership that we bring and what not,” Lavey said. “It’s something we definitely embrace, and it’s a huge advantage for us. ... It’s like having more coaches out there. These guys keep the younger guys from getting down if they mess up on a play and it helps them mature as players.”
In fact, Oklahoma State’s defense has forced 16 turnovers to date and only two of them have come from underclassmen — an interception by sophomore linebacker Ryan Simmons and a fumble recovery by redshirt freshman defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah.
Perhaps the renewed improvement in takeaways for the OSU defense is rooted in the friendly competition between player groups. While the secondary has combined for seven interceptions, the linebacking corps isn’t far behind with Lavey and Lewis each having a pair, along with Simmons’ pick, giving them five total.
“Right now we’re losing, but then again they have four (defensive backs) and we just have three linebackers,” Lewis said. “But I think we’re going to end up winning it by the end of the year. And it’s a healthy competition within the defense, and that’s good for us.”