Worst defense in the country….
OSU can’t sustain their winning streak with a defense ranked 103rd in the country…
Just some of the comments bandied about, mostly on ESPN, when OSU and national championship appear in the same sentence.
So how do we respond to that?
We all know of DC Bill Young’s “bend, don’t break” defensive strategy, but I don’t think people are considering the VERY SOUND philosophy behind it, and why that philosophy, combined with our offense, has translated into LOTS of TO’s.
When I coached basketball years ago, I took with me one lesson from my HS coach (who led my little HS to a number of state tournaments and a couple of state championships back in the ’70′s)….defense. Doesn’t have to be flashy or aggressive because most schools won’t have the athletes to shut opponents down, but if it is sound and consistent the ODDS will be in your favor. In almost any sport, the more times you have to conduct the action of the game, the odds increase that you will, relative to your ability, make an error. Baseball, tennis (Andre Agassi was phenomenal at it), basketball, AND football all have to comply with this universal truth. There are other sports, such as golf, where this truth applies, but I will limit my conversation to those sports where an opponent is directly involved in your actions.
We were taught to make the opponent run their half court sets. If we pressed, it was simply to make the opponent handle the ball full court under the same pressure as the half court set. We had no shot clock or 3 pt line in those days, so it was even worse…teams were more patient, and there was no advantage to the outside shot (unless you had a sharpshooter or two on your team) so you couldn’t play as aggressive in the half court set or you might give up a layup or would be out of gas within a few minutes.
Our goal was to make you, the opponent handle the ball MORE than you normally would, increasing the odds of a ball handling error, or poor shot selection in the case that you became frustrated and impatient. Sit back, clog the passing lanes into the paint, don’t give up the easy basket. Of course that strategy was diminished when you played an opponent who LIKED to play that style of game.
This is where OSU’s high octane, fast paced offense makes a difference.
The Cowboys’ D KNOWS going into a game that the offense is going to score AT LEAST 30 points, probably more. The offense will do it quickly, running plays at a break neck pace. I have spoken before about the pressure that puts on the opposing offense. Keep in mind that, while many teams work out of spread, “zone read” formations, very few are built to do this at the pace of 1 play every 18 seconds.
While I do not have the time to research all the statistics, I’m sure the OSU staff has already done so. Just like they know the relationship between the number of snaps a player takes to the likelihood of getting injured, they also know the relationship between the total number of plays a team runs and the likelihood of an offensive mistake (ball handling or penalty). How many scoring plays over 20yds (or just plays over 20yds for that matter) has the OSU defense given up this year, relative to the rest of college football? I would bet you could count them on both hands, maybe just one.
If you don’t have a lock down defense, such as Alabama (not going to count LSU, since the one game they played against a Holgorsen style offense, they gave up a lot of yards, and a few big plays), or a lineman or linebacker that can dominate a game single handedly (like Nebraska’s Suh), your best bet is to make the opponent take their time getting down the field.
We’ve seen it happen time and again for the Cowboys.
OSU’s offense scores quickly, even if it has to run 7-10 plays, and the opposing offense soon feels the pressure to keep up, either playing at a pace they are not comfortable with, or reaching out for a big play. Sometimes, the opponent will attempt to play keep away…ex: Texas…but unless you are going to limit the Cowboys’ offense to 7 or fewer possessions in a game, that strategy will still yeild at least 30 points for OSU. We’ve seen with A&M, two years in a row, what one quarter of high octane OSU offense will do to a scoreboard.
Either way, what this does yield is LOTS of plays for OSU’s defense. Gundy and company have learned, adding depth and drastically improving conditioning relative to last season. They have realized that you don’t necessarily need all stars…if you have two or three good athletes, then rotation helps to keep them fresh, and if one goes down, you have little or no drop-off in talent. A good athlete that is fresh in the 4th qtr is better than a great athlete whose legs have turned to mush (see Bedlam 2010).
The result of this is what we have seen in several games this year…when the offense struggled, the defense rose to the occasion, or in the 4th qtr of a game, when we needed a play to be made, our D still had juice left in the tank to do so. Look at the TO’s created in the 2nd halves at A&M, UT, & Mizzou. Those were all due to the defense still having legs, and they were the difference in all of those games.
The point being…slow down the opponent. Don’t give up BIG plays or easy scores. We are in shape, so we don’t mind if you run 80-90 plays, and even ring up some decent numbers on offense, because at the end of a 10 play drive at the beginning of the 4th qtr, our legs will be fresher than yours, and when the mistake occurs, and it ALWAYS will, we will be in position to take advantage.
That’s what our guys have done to this point in the season, and will continue to do…slow down the opponents offense more effectively than the opponent’s defense can slow down our offense. With the way our offense functions, I would say that is a winning formula.
BTW…don’t get me wrong. I am not stating that we do not have some great athletes on defense. Contrary to popular belief, there are a number of defensive starters that could start or contribute heavily for OU. Blatnick, Martin, Gilbert, Lewis to name a few (and the way TT ran/passed all over the place in Norman, I’m not so sure they couldn’t have used them now). Those guys can make plays when asked (see Blatnick against, well, everyone). And for a defense that is supposedly so bad…what would explain the multiple Big 12 defensive player of the week honors this season?
I think the new description for our defense is “sneaky.” They are sneaky good; they sneak up on you just when you think you’re about to turn the corner; they lull you into a false sense of confidence and security, then they find a way to sneak our offense back on the field. The level of perfection required from opposing offenses in order to keep up with even a “stale” performance from our offense is daunting, and often unrealistic, for 90% of the competition OSU will face.
So the naysayers can keep naysaying.
OSU will keep winning with the “worst defense in the country.”