Defense showing signs of health, improvement at right time

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (11) drags down a Kansas receiver during a recent game at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboy defense has held its past four opponents to less than 28 points – and each time it has resulted in a win for Oklahoma State.

There was still nearly three quarters left in the game when Oklahoma State had what Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said was the game-winning moment.

Early in the second quarter, with the Cowboys up 7-0, West Virginia was looking to tie the game and needed just one yard to do so. The Mountaineers had just marched 65 yards on 11 plays and was knocking on the goal line.

But with the entire Cowboy defense lined up in its own end zone, Oklahoma State stuffed two quarterback sneaks by Jarret Doege and affected a pass attempt on a third-and-6 – following a false start penalty – to limit WVU to just a field goal.

“Last night, I told the team that was what won the game,” Gundy said Monday. “Very seldom do we ever talk about situations that happened in the second quarter.”

On both dives by the Doege, it was one of Oklahoma State’s lead tacklers getting credited with the stop.

With the defensive line creating a wall along the goal line, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga came around the end each time and dragged Doege back – preventing the WVU QB from getting much momentum.

“I don’t ever remember seeing the ball that close to the goal line,” Gundy said. “When both teams lined up, their helmets were essentially over the goal line on both sides. It looked like a pure rugby scrum.

“You had 20 guys in a pile and fighting, scratching and pulling guys back. That happened twice, then we were able to get the penalty and Trace Ford was able to get pressure on the quarterback, knock his arm down and held them to a field goal. That’s where the game was won and it was very well done.”

That’s become a bit of staple for the Cowboys during their four-game winning streak.

The defense has been making plays – one way or another – under second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

Whether it’s a goal line stand like this past weekend, or a game-winning pick-six on the road at Iowa State that started this run, the defense has had a big a hand in the wins as the offense.

During the four-game winning streak, the Cowboy defense has held opposing offenses to under 28 points – the most being a pair of 27-point outputs by the Cyclones and TCU. It’s the first time Oklahoma State has held its opponents to less than 28 points in a four-game stretch in Big 12 Conference play – and the first time since 1985 in the Big 8 Conference.

“We’re healthy on defense now for the first time we’ve been all year,” Gundy said Monday. “We started the season with three or four players injured, and it ran all the way up through the fourth or fifth week of the season.”

Saturday’s game did snap a streak of three-straight games forcing turnovers for the Cowboys, who had 10 takeaways in the previous three games.

But for the third time in the past four games, the defense held the opposing offense to fewer than 100 yards rushing. The Mountaineers managed just 26 yards on the ground with an average of 1.2 yards per carry – with the longest run going for 14 yards.

To couple with the takeaways of late, has been the ability to force a change of possession by normal means.

In the past four games, Oklahoma State has forced 15 three-and-outs. In its five conference victories, the Cowboy defense has forced an average of 4.2 three-and-outs per game, while forcing just 2.3 per game in its three Big 12 losses.

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