Cowboys, Sooners off to perfect start
Knowles is talking big, OSU defense playing big
STILLWATER — Jim Knowles is talking big.
Not loud. Big. They are two different things. Loud is bluster. Big is confidence.
“I came here so that we could win championships, and we’re going to,” OSU’s defensive coordinator said Saturday night after a 24-14 victory over Baylor at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“Our defense has risen its level of play. Our offense is doing fine, coming along. Great coaches, great players. We’re about to put this thing together.”
For more than a decade, the OSU offense was a terror. Now it’s the defense that is quite put together.
Cowboy quarterback Spencer Sanders twice threw interceptions Saturday that set up Baylor in virtual field-goal range. Those two Bear drives started at the OSU 31- and 36-yard lines. Baylor punted on both drives. Yep, it’s a different day. OSU’s 2011 Big 12 championship team was honored at halftime, and many of the veterans of that fabulous team were in attendance. Most had to be thinking alternative universe.
“I’m trying to adjust,” Mike Gundy himself said. “I have a lot of confidence in them. Just hard to adjust to it, because we’ve been in so many shootouts.”
From shootouts to shutouts, at least in the first half, when Baylor punted all on six possessions. The Bears’ punt streak ran to eight possessions, ended only when Baylor coach Dave Aranda said enough of this. He kept his offense on the field late in the third quarter, facing fourth-and-2, and Abram Smith unleashed a 55-yard touchdown run when two Cowboy defenders collided, leaving a gap open.
But man, how the Cowboy narrative has changed. Baylor won the takeaway battle 3-0, which in the old days usually meant certain defeat, because turnovers meant a scoring opportunity lost.
Not anymore. Turnovers aren’t killers anymore, at least not for OSU, because its defense can get stops. Baylor had 13 full possessions Saturday night and scored two touchdowns.
That’s winning defense in any era. “Pressure is a privilege, because it’s earned,” Knowles said, repeating a quote his son sent him, from Billie Jean King. That’s the crowning achievement of Knowles’ four seasons in Stillwater. We’re starting to expect this kind of play.
“Expectations are a privilege,” Knowles said. “Pressure is a privilege. We don’t flinch. We’re going to go out and stop ‘em. There’s no hesitation.”
Turnovers? “That’s the way the game goes,” Knowles said. “It happens, and we have to stop ‘em.”
Baylor had a first down at the OSU 36-yard line in the first quarter after Sanders’ first interception, but cornerback Jarrick Bernard-Converse and tackle Brendon Evers combined on a sack of quarterback Gerry Bohanon.
Baylor had a first down at the OSU 31 in the third quarter after Sanders’ third interception, but safety Thomas Harper and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez swamped Drew Estrada for a two-yard loss on a reverse, and defensive end Collin Oliver sacked Bohanon.
Both times, Aranda ordered a punt. “Don’t tell them this, but one of the best defenses I’ve seen in my life,” said OSU receiver Tay Martin, who is a Louisiana-raised fifth-year senior who played three years at Washington State. So he’s been around. “Just having them is a great feeling. Knowing they’ve got your back is a great thing.”
For so many years, it was the OSU offense that bailed out the OSU defense. Or didn’t bail out the OSU defense, depending on the game.
Now things have changed.
By the fourth quarter, Aranda knew he better take advantage of every at-bat. So on fourth-and-4 from the Baylor 36yard line, Aranda didn’t order a punt. Tyler Lacy and Devin Harper chased Bohanon into a deep scramble and a harmless incomplete pass.
“They have their backs against the wall more than what they deserve,” Gundy said of his defense.
“It’s extremely difficult to win a game when you’re minus two (in turnovers). To be minus three and still win … don’t want to jinx ‘em. They just keep playing good.”
In five games this season, OSU has allowed eight offensive touchdowns. That’s despite some dire situations.
Keep playing like this, and Jim Knowles big talk could bear fruit sooner rather than later.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.