As the Cowboys bask in their new and unfamiliar preseason glory, one thing checks the optimism of both fans and bandwagon college football analysts: The defense. Their offense is getting a lot of love and not without reason, but it's honestly tough to find too many bright spots on the other side of the ball. Thus, despite the bold predictions of some, this puts Oklahoma State universally behind Oklahoma and Texas in the preseason rankings.
While OSU's defense looked good in stretches last year, it really faltered after the loss to Texas, giving up 56 points to Tech, 61 to OU, and then 42 to Oregon. Their rather inconsistent performance over the season, so noted by Bill C., makes things a bit confusing, and they lost five starters from last season to graduation. Furthermore, their defensive coordinator's departure also makes it hard to predict what they'll look like, although Cowboy fans are happy Bill Young has returned to fill that role. He is going to need to improve the defense instantly for them to have a good chance at dethroning Texas and OU. While they arguably only need to be average to allow their great offense to work, it is doubtful "average" will allow them to go unscathed through Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma, no matter how good the offense turns out to be.
Sacks: An Elusive Concept in Stillwater
As a million football analysts will tell you, the best ingredient to stopping a high-powered passing attack is to get to the quarterback often. With that in mind, it is slightly mystifying how OSU had some success against the likes of Missouri and Texas (relatively speaking, anyway). Their defensive line just could not get to the quarterback. While sacks don't tell the whole story, they certainly are good indicators on whether or not a defense is generating pressure. Oklahoma State was an abysmal 107th in sacks in the entire country, which is even worse when you consider that defenses in the Big 12 typically faced more passing plays than other teams. In fact, when Bill C. adjusts his numbers, Oklahoma State was second to last, ahead of only mighty Idaho. They had only fifteen sacks the entire 2008 campaign. Orakpo and Kindle had 11.5 and 10 respectively, and this is with Orakpo missing time due to injury. Yikes.
Their rush defense was better, but statistically, it was hurt by their lack of sacks, earning them a rank of 52nd in the country. While that artificially makes their rush defense look worse, we also have to take into account that they didn't face too many elite rushing teams either. In any case, Bill C. had the D-line ranked #55 in the country, which is average but not exactly good enough if they want to take on the Sooners and Longhorns.
Simply put, Bill Young needs to improve the defensive front. Unless he thinks his new secondary can survive with Colt and Bradford making sandwiches in the backfield, there's no way they can afford another season with that meager sack total if they want the big prizes. Easier said than done, because he doesn't have the most options to choose from.
OSU Projected Starters
DT: Derek Burton, Sr. 6'3, 285 lbs. Backup: Swanson Miller
Burton is a versatile player who has played on the inside and outside of the line. This season, he is making a permanent switch to DT, as OSU is more bare there than we are with the departure of both of their starters. Burton is a former four star defensive end according to Rivals and he is currently listed as their nose tackle. He is undersized for the position, but he seems to be a gutsy player, for lack of a better term, and he is a worker. He only notched half a sack and 5.5 TFL last season, but he did have other responsibilities besides attacking the QB. He does have experience at the NT position, playing it in four games last season, but it will be interesting to see how he holds up through an entire year there.
If he indeed plays as a nose tackle for the most part, which I can't confirm, he will have to take on blockers for OSU's linebackers, the strength of the defense, to make plays. With his limited size and experience here, that is asking for a lot. However, it is not uncommon for schools to get creative at DT, and Burton is willing to take on the challenge. We should remind ourselves that the situation we find ourselves now is common throughout college football, spoiled as we've been with a number of good DT's throughout Mack's tenure.
Backing him up may be JUCO transfer Swanson Miller, who is 6'4, 300 pounds and looks a bit more like an NT. Last season was Miller's first in the program, and he showed up in all 13 games. However, he apparently did not have a good spring (although he had a good spring game) and OSU fans would really like to see him make a big leap in his second season.
DT: Shane Jarka, Jr. 6'3, 295 lbs. Backup: Chris Donaldson
Next to Burton may be junior Shane Jarka, who is also another converted linebacker/DE. Jarka has put on some weight since last season to approach the 300 pound mark and he reportedly had a good spring. Jarka is a former two star recruit according to Rivals, so he did not come with any high expectations, but he did play in all 13 games last season as a DT. He had four TFL and 0 sacks, which sounds pretty typical for this line.
Another JUCO transfer will be backing him up in Chris Donaldson. Donaldson is 6'1, 300 pounds, and he has very little experience. The Pokes probably aren't expecting too much from him other than taking a handful of snaps per game.
Chinasa has cool defensive end name to go with good defensive end size. He didn't particularly have good defensive end numbers; 8.5 TFL is respectable, but 2 sacks didn't quite meet expectations. Chinasa is going to have to do better in that department, and OSU fans are confident he can do that.
Chinasa has good feet and he was a former four star recruit. He had a good spring and notched 2 sacks in the spring game. Furthermore, while his sack total was disappointing, it doesn't mean he had a bad year; he got in the backfield frequently and he did have himself a good game against Texas, sacking Colt once and recording seven tackles. On a funny side note, he returned an interception for a touchdown against the Aggies. Gotta give him props for that.
He has one more year of eligibility, but this is the year for Chinasa to shine, being the only other returning D-line starter besides Burton and possessing some good talent. He has the look of an NFL prospect, but he's going to have to up his production to get the attention of scouts.
Behind him will be four star recruit Richetti Jones. Jones was a prized recruit and saw limited action in nine games last season. He finished with no sacks but OSU fans are high on him for next season.
DE - Jeremiah Price, Sr. 6'1, 268 lbs. Backup: Jamie Blatnick
Price saw regular action last year and led the team in sacks with... three. Way to go. He also was second on the team in TFL with seven, and while these numbers aren't stellar, they are arguably fine for someone who was not a regular starter. Price is, surprise surprise, another JUCO transfer. You have to give Gundy credit for adding some decent JUCO talent on his team to combat his recruiting disadvantages against Texas and OU.
Price shares in the high expectations for OSU's DEs, and he had a strong spring with two sacks in the spring game. Furthermore, not to be outdone by Chinasa, Price also earned himself an interception against Texas A&M. Like Chinasa, Price's goals for himself are 10 sacks for the season, and if both reach their goals, they would have already surpassed their meager total team production in 2008. It's not a stretch to say that much of the season rides on their two DEs.
Sophomore Jamie Blatnick will play behind him, a former two star recruit. He did record a sack against almighty Iowa State, which I guess is an accomplishment on this line. He saw limited action but he does provide depth.
JUCO transfer Horace Hubbard is getting some rave reviews. Hubbard was a prized transfer last year, and he can provide much needed depth at DT. A source mentioned that he'd be the starting DT, but it seems outdated because it still listed Burton as a defensive end. Furthermore, redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas will either get playing time at DE or even make a switch to DT if needed.
Those QBs Are Hard to Find
The number one priority for this D-line is simple: Get more pressure on the QB. They have set a lofty goal of 40 sacks for the season as a team, and a seven sack performance against their own hyped offensive line in the spring game has hopes up in Stillwater. If OSU can approach that number, good things will be in store for them in the Big 12. Another dreadful, 15 sack season will almost certainly guarantee that either Texas or Oklahoma will be representing the South again.
Their makeshift DT rotation is a big concern. Not only must they prove they can generate pressure up the middle, they will have to show they can stonewall average Big 12 rushing attacks (luckily for them, arguably the best one in the Big 12 is their own). Burton is a good player but he is undersized, and if they are forced to stay on the field for long periods of time, their line can wear out in a hurry and wide open holes might start forming. They have a bit of leeway because they have good linebackers behind them, but if they want to challenge OU and Texas, this unit is going to have to step up big time. They don't have a lot of time to develop; they play Georgia immediately, and they will see a schedule featuring dangerous quarterbacks such as Mike Leach's New Project, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and Robert Griffin. Tech and Baylor are honestly low concerns, but beating Texas and OU in the same season will be difficult without a major upgrade in performance. Of course, since their DTs last year were nothing grand, it may be a blessing in disguise that they left, giving them a better chance this season.
When you look at Oklahoma's defensive line, you see a lot of recognizable names and playmakers. I don't get that same sense from Oklahoma State. They have good depth at DE and quality players there, and they have bolstered their ranks with JUCO players. However, I have my doubts they can get to that 40 sack mark, and therefore, I have my doubts that this defense overall will be able to keep the points off the board to take down everyone on their schedule.
Then again, we get to play in Stillwater, and crazy things always happen between the Pokes and Longhorns. While it might be humorous in hindsight to go down by some large margin again and then come back and win... I would rather not this time around. The offense is very good and the D-line may just be good enough to be able to generate pressure if the opposing offense is forced into being one-dimensional.