Cow­boys hope de­fense can match offense

Flow­ers, Richards key sec­ondary that should bol­ster team.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Cliff Brunt

Ok­la­homa State coach Mike Gundy be­lieves his de­fense has the goods to sup­port the team’s well-known of­fen­sive fire­power.

The Cow­boys re­turn the key of­fen­sive play­ers from last year’s 10-3 squad that won the Alamo Bowl. Quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph and re­ceivers James Wash­ing­ton and Jalen McCleskey are na­tional hon­ors can­di­dates, and run­ning back Jus­tice Hill was the con­fer­ence New­comer of the Year last sea­son.

The de­fense hopes to make some noise this sea­son, too, and pos­si­bly pro­pel the Cow­boys to the Big 12 ti­tle and a slot in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. Gundy said the unit has held its own in prac­tice so far and has em­braced fac­ing some of the na­tion’s best tal­ent each day.

“It’s hu­man na­ture for an offense or a de­fense to feel like they want to do their part, but I also think that they (the de­fen­sive play­ers) use that to their ad­van­tage be­cause I see them at prac­tice, and when one of the cor­ners or safeties will cover James Wash­ing­ton or Jalen McCleskey, they like it,” Gundy said. “Their body lan­guage is say­ing, ‘I’m do­ing my part,’ ”

The de­fense had some strong per­for­mances late last sea­son, of­fer­ing hope that the unit won’t put too much pres­sure on the offense.

Ok­la­homa State held TCU to 343 yards in a 31-6 win to get in po­si­tion to com­pete for the Big 12 ti­tle. After slip­ping against Ok­la­homa, the Cow­boys bounced back and held Colorado to 318 yards in a 38-8 vic­tory in the Alamo Bowl.

Some of the tal­ent that pro­duced those re­sults is gone. De­fen­sive tackle Vin­cent Tay­lor and safety Jor­dan Sterns — both AP Al­lBig 12 first-team picks — have moved on. Still, the Cow­boys have solid play­ers com­ing back. Safety Tre Flow­ers is a pre­sea­son All-Big 12 pick. Cor­ner­back Ra­mon Richards has moved to safety after start­ing 23 games at cor­ner­back. Line­backer Chad Whitener was a sec­ond-team All-Big 12 pick by the coaches last sea­son. In all, five starters and 21 let­ter­men re­turn on that side of the ball.

“We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of min­utes against some high-po­tent of­fenses, and we have a high-po­tent offense as well,” Whitener said. “Go­ing against these guys and do­ing what we do all the time just gets us ready to take on ev­ery­thing. We’re ready to go.”

Adrian Baker, a trans­fer from Clem­son, should help the Cow­boys deal with Richards’ po­si­tion switch and the loss of cor­ner­back Ash­ton Lamp­kin. De­fen­sive line­men Cole Wal­ter­scheid and Jar­rell Owens should be an­chors.

“I see hun­gry play­ers try­ing to make a name for them­selves, com­pet­ing ev­ery day, and they are get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day,” Flow­ers said.

Richards said the tal­ent is there, and the play­ers just need to buy into de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Glenn Spencer’s plans and stay fo­cused.

“If ev­ery­one takes per­sonal own­er­ship, then we should be great,” Richards said.

NATE BILLINGS / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ok­la­homa State coach Mike Gundy be­lieves the de­fense is get­ting stronger by fac­ing the Cow­boys’ high-pow­ered offense ev­ery day in prac­tice.

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