For a team whose offense gets a lot of the attention, Oklahoma State’s defense made itself known Saturday night.
The Cowboys stifled the Kansas State offense throughout the game, leading to a 26-13 victory at Boone Pickens Stadium.
The No. 24 Wildcats managed 244 total yards, but most of them came late in the game. OSU’s defense forced pressure consistently and was able to get off the field efficiently, as Kansas State converted just one of 13 conversions on third down. OSU coach Mike Gundy said he was proud of the defense’s physicality and its ability to stop the run.
“We were able to stop them and force them into passing situations,” Gundy said. “... We’ve continued to improve every week and get better.”
Starting out, the Cowboys (4-1 overall; 1-1 Big 12 Conference) held the Wildcats to a combined eight yards in their first two drives, but OSU’s offense had to punt in its first couple of drives as well.
Midway through the first quarter, OSU started to get things going offensively, and moved down the field on a seven-play, 51-yard drive. The Cowboys stalled in the red zone, though, and Matt Ammendola converted a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
On the next Kansas State possession, the OSU defense continued its strong play, this time with a forced turnover. Redshirt freshman Samuela Tuihalamaka stripped the ball away from Wildcat running back James Gilbert, and Brock Martin fell on it. Martin’s fumble recovery gave the Cowboys solid field position as well as momentum.
“I saw the ball sitting there and no one else was jumping on it,” Martin said. “I almost grabbed it and took off but I was like ‘Ah, coach is gonna get onto me for that one,’ so I just jumped on it and grabbed it.”
A few plays later, Spencer Sanders threw a touchdown to Logan Carter to extend OSU’s lead to 10-0.
After a few more defensive stops, the Cowboy offense put some more points on the board with 8:40 left in the second quarter, once again with an Ammendola field goal. OSU led 13-0, and Kansas State was looking for any kind of chance to get back in the game after being shut down repeatedly on offense.
The Wildcats (3-1; 0-1) received a timeout to talk things out in the form of a one hour, 12-minute lightning delay with a little under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
With the extended break, Kansas State came out of the locker room with a plan, at least for one play. Skyler Thompson passed to Samuel Wheeler for 39 yards, resulting in the Wildcats’ only first down of the first half. The OSU defense continued to suffocate Kansas State’s offense, though, and it had to settle for a field goal.
After the Wildcats put points on the board, OSU went back down the field with the help of a few big Chuba Hubbard rushes. The Cowboys struggled again in the red zone, and Ammendola booted his third field goal of the night.
The Cowboys led 16-3 at the half and were performing well in all areas of the game, especially on defense. Kansas State had just 81 total yards in the first two quarters, including a measly 18 rushing yards.
The theme of Cowboy domination continued early in the second half, with the OSU defense quickly forcing another three and out. On OSU’s first offensive play of the half, Hubbard made two cuts and blazed past the Wildcat defense for an 84-yard touchdown. Hubbard’s rush set a new career-long rush and gave OSU a controlling 23-3 lead.
Kansas State needed to make a move, and it scored 10 points off of two Sanders interceptions. The scores cut the OSU lead to 23-13 with just more than seven minutes left in the fourth, offering the Wildcats a glimpse of hope.
The string of momentum was short-lived, though, as OSU held onto the ball, added another field goal and coasted to a victory.
The performance gave the Cowboys their first Big 12 victory. Hubbard had a career night, but the under-the-radar contributors for the Cowboys came on the defensive side. Redshirt sophomore safety Tre Sterling led the team in tackles with seven, and he said the defense’s showing was crucial to the team’s confidence.
“This game showed us that we are a good defense,” Sterling said. “In past years, we haven’t been taken seriously, but after the first five games it shows that we are legit, and it’s time to take us seriously.”