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Oklahoma State Football

Bowl Game and Youth Stepping up Shows Defense Is Not Far off for Oklahoma State

December 30, 2022

STILLWATER – While Oklahoma State comes out of the end of the season with its fifth loss in the last six games with the 24-17 setback to Wisconsin in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl knowing that the offense needs an overhaul, in particular with the run game, the defense is seemingly in much better shape.

While the Cowboys stoppers were flambéed in the two-game tour of the Sunflower State with losses of 48-0 to Kansas State and 37-16 at Kansas, the last four games they only allowed an average of 22.5 points a game and 367-yards a contest. More than acceptable numbers. In fact, the season average for both was significantly higher at 28.9-points per game and 435.7-yards a game.

The year before with Jim Knowles as the defensive mastermind, the Cowboys averaged allowing 298-yards a game and 18.1-points per contest. The last four games despite dealing with a struggling offense and a lot of young players force in the line-up with the likes of defensive ends Tyler Lacy and Trace Ford along with safety Thomas Harper all out the defense played pretty well.  

“The defense was on the field the whole time going to the fourth quarter,” head coach Mike Gundy noted. “We scored quickly (1st quarter) and then because we couldn’t run the ball and make conversions, we were three and out, three and out, and the defense was on the field the whole time. They kind of held up.”

“I’m proud of the way we played tonight,” safety Trey Rucker added. “We played a physical game, and we knew it was going to be a physical game. They are a Big Ten team and they are going to try and ground and pound. We came in with a physical mindset and just got with the boys. We were going to hold our own.”

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Rucker goes up to get his interception.

Yes, Trey Rucker, the transfer from Wake Forest, who got into some trouble off the field before the 2021 season and then was ineligible throughout this past season. Rucker got after it in bowl practices and being eligible for the game put himself in position to play. He finished with three tackles, including a touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter. Two plays later he had a touchdown-denying interception on a perfectly played pass into the end zone. The next play Garret Rangel hit Stephon Johnson Jr. for the pass run for 84-yards to give Oklahoma State the lead.

“I just played the ball,” Rucker said. “I seen the quarterback drop back and I just went to get it.”

Rucker’s absence was likely academics, but it was not clarified as those ineligible situations often aren’t. However, Rucker made the most of his reintroduction to Oklahoma State football.

“My mindset going into it, like you said I missed the whole season, so this was my first game the whole season getting back into it, I just wanted to get into the groove,” Rucker said. “I wanted to introduce you all to low down. I just wanted to come back out and have fun with my teammates. One last ride with the seniors even though I missed the season, I knew I should have been with them. My mindset coming out was just to dominate.”

Pokes Report
Linebacker Lamont Bishop barreling toward Wisconsin quarterback Chase Wolf.

The defense had plenty of young contributors or older players getting a chance. I’d been begging to see Lamont Bishop at linebacker, and he didn’t disappoint with nine tackles and two tackles for 12-yards in losses. Redshirt freshman corner Cam Smith covered well and finished with five tackles. All of those noted by Gundy.

“It was really good to have Rucker back and Rawls made those big plays,” Gundy told me in the visiting manager’s office of the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field. “We need to do a better job of protecting the edge and defending the quarterback nakeds. They run the ball so well that you have to collapse down. It was good to have those young guys out there. Lamont (Bishop) made plays and Cam Smith made plays. He covered pretty good, playing in a game like that because you’re in man coverage most of the time since you have to have an extra hat in the box. For him to hold up and compete like that was really good. There were young guys that stepped up and make plays.”

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Rawls forces fumble on sack of Wolf.

That bodes well for the defense in the future. Gundy mentioned Lyrik Rawls and his two big plays in the second half gave Oklahoma State a chance. He forced a fumble to get the Cowboys the ball and allowed the offense to drive and get the game within a touchdown. Then he got the ball back on a third down Wisconsin pass attempt where one-on-one he chased Chase Wolf the quarterback and deflected his pass attempt.

“My man set back to drop back for a block and so I just went off to make the play,” Rawls said. “I went for the sack and ended up getting the ball.

“I was the last man of the defense, and I just made the play,” Rawls said of the critical deflection. “It is very hard to make a one-on-one play and that is what I did.”

This all makes the future look bright defensively. The leading tackler in the game, the only first-team All-Big 12 player this season, and one of just two All-Americans is Jason Taylor II. The senior safety had 12 tackles in the contest. He has another season with the COVID year. The guy that led the Big 12 and tied for the national lead in interceptions and was third in the nation in tackles at safety is undecided on using that extra season.

“I haven’t decided whether or not I would come back or declare,” Taylor told me in the locker room. “I’m going to take some time.”

He made it clear he is going to play that final season at Oklahoma State or go to the NFL. Taylor is a Cowboy and will stay a Cowboy.

“They played their 13th game; they didn’t have to, but they did,” defensive coordinator Derek Mason said of Taylor and other seniors like Sione Asi and Brock Martin. “I think that speaks to their leadership and what they feel about this program. If they’ve done anything, they’ve laid the foundation for guys coming behind them with what to do when you’re a Cowboy.”

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Safety Kendal Daniels is another young player that will lead the defense in the future.

The future? Rawls, Rucker, and Gundy all said the goal is to make those former Cowboys and everybody else in Cowboy country proud.

“We are just getting started on this side,” Rucker finished.

“It will start with offseason. We will come back in January and go harder,” Rawls said. “The offseason is the time to strengthen that, and this is when we have to time to do it. You have Ray Gay, you have Ty Ruck (Rucker you have Ty Williams, all these guys, and we’re all going to be here.”

“For me the exciting part is to get back there in January and maneuver again,” Gundy concluded. “We will examine where we need to improve and then we will come back with solutions based on where our personnel is. We will work with these young guys and those things are exciting for me.”

Discussion from...

Bowl Game and Youth Stepping up Shows Defense Is Not Far off for Oklahoma State

3,104 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by OT
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Agree we have some good young talent all over this defense. Always wondered why we didn't see more of Bishop. One thing that needs to happen is getting backups experience and reps during the year. You never know when someone that played every snap will value dollars over who gave them the opportunity to develop and shine (Cobb and others). Get the next man ready, he likely will be depended on because of injury, transfer, NIL,etc.

We have equally talented offensive youth. We just need an experienced leader at QB and OL. If we can find those elements, we are right back in it.
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Defense looked fast and played hard at the bowl game. Good enough to win if we could block better.

I wish we would stop crashing the LB's so much.
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24 points against a good rushing team that had their entire playbook available playing from ahead was an excellent performance.

Get the other side of the ball sorted and they can play much more aggressively.
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