The State of Oklahoma: The Cowboy Back Seven

 

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How far the Pokes have fallen.  They started out the season as a trendy "darkhorse" pick, and now you barely hear a peep about them.  You won't again this week, as they play the great Grambling State.  Still, they won't drop much more than they have if they keep winning, and for all we know, they'll crawl back up the rankings and be right outside the top 10 by Halloween.  Or they can can flame out and be unranked if they drop a game to Mizzou, A&M, or Baylor.  Who knows.  We'll want them to beat the Ags just because, but while a highly ranked OSU will help Texas, we have Mizzou and Baylor on our schedule anyway.  We will have to win all of our games regardless.

Last Week:  Beating up on the Owls

Okie State followed up their disappointing loss to Houston with a comfortable victory over Rice.  While a bare look at the box score may suggest that Rice kept this thing close, it honestly never really was; the Pokes were up 28-3 in the third quarter and the game was never in doubt.  Total yards may also suggest that Rice was very successful on offense, but that too is misleading, even though the Owls ultimately out-gained the Cowboys.

Defensively, while Rice piled on some garbage time yards and points, the Pokes weren't as bad as some will make this performance out to be.  Despite the 300 yards passing from Rice's rotating QB's, they only averaged 5.9 yards per attempt even with a 72 yard pass in the second half.  On the ground, Rice's main runner Jeramy Goodson saw limited success but overall, the Owls got nothing going.  How did they score 24?  They had the aforementioned 72 yard pass to set up one score and a fumbled kickoff by OSU to set up another.  That's about it.  Add in a fumble return for a TD early in the game and an interception for OSU, and the Cowboy defense had a decent day.

On the other side, Zac Robinson looked a lot better while the run game was surprisingly mediocre.  Granted, Hunter is out, but OSU only averaged 3.4 yards per carry.  Against Rice.  Other than a fumble, Dez Bryant had a huge game with 9 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, but that illustrates the big problem with Oklahoma State's offense right now.  Robinson completed 14 passes and 9 of them went to Bryant, with Josh Cooper coming up behind with a grand total of two receptions for 36 yards.  Bryant is a great talent and Okie Lite has a good run game, but the lack of a second option for Zac Robinson is still a big concern. 

The win wasn't as "bad" a win as some make it out to be, but it was only against Rice, and the second half lethargy that allowed Rice to make the score look better than it really was should be slightly concerning for the Pokes.  However, they shouldn't worry too much about "style" points with plenty of chances in the future to establish themselves as a Big 12 contender and potential BCS candidate.

The Cowboy Back Seven

I'm going to ignore OSU's game with Grambling State because, well, it's Grambling State.   Instead, I'll talk about Oklahoma State's linebackers and secondary, as I did for OU earlier today.

Linebackers

Andre Sexton, SLB:  Sexton is a returning senior who led the team in tackles last year and also forced a couple of fumbles.  Being a former safety, he's got good speed and can cover a lot of space, and he hits hard despite not having great size at 6'0, 225.  He made the second team All-Big 12 last year, and this season he is third in tackles and has an interception.  Sexton is great going side to side, but like the other OSU linebackers, he struggles when the play comes directly at him, and his smaller size makes it more difficult for him to shed off lead blockers.

Donald Booker, MLB:  Booker was a highly regarded JUCO transfer and a JUCO All-American.  He has decent size but he's not as big as Lemon, standing at 5'11, 230, but he can really move it and he can hit hard when he gets going.  Booker was supposed to be the top reserve, but after senior Orie Lemon went down he was thrust into the starting role and has generally looked pretty good.  He currently leads the Cowboys in tackles and has a forced fumble and fumble recovery which he returned for a TD against Rice.  Booker is okay in coverage, and he had the unfortunate experience of watching his tipped ball luckily flutter into the arms of a Houston Cougar for that game-changing touchdown.

Patrick Lavine, WLB:  Lavine is a former high school safety and looks the part, being a bit more lanky than you expect from an LB (6'2, 220-225).  He doesn't hit as hard as the other two but he's probably the most versatile linebacker, with great speed to cover space and to chase down plays from the weakside.  This year, he has two TFL, one interception, and three passes broken up.  He has three years of experience and he's been a solid guy from his freshman season.

Depth:  Orie Lemon, as mentioned above, is gone, and with him they lose some size since Lemon was about 250 pounds.  Junior Justin Gent and sophomore James Thomas are the two main backups, and they can play all three positions.  Gent has good size and Thomas is athletic but pretty small, looking more like a defensive back.

Good, Not Great

This is the strongest part of the OSU defense, even with the loss of Orie Lemon.  They return a wealth of experience and a lot of tackles.  All the starting linebackers are athletic in space and can rack up tackles.  The problem is that they are not particularly great at meeting plays head on or stopping plays short.  While they won't have to worry about too many power running teams in the Big 12, teams that run right at the linebackers can cause them a lot of trouble with their lack of size.  Furthermore, while they are decent in coverage, they are all better suited at chasing down running plays rather than dropping back.  They have decent depth but it was dealt a big blow when Lemon went down.  Still, this is good group of guys, and they have one of the top LB crews in the Big 12.

Secondary

Lucien Antoine, FS:  Antoine left the 2008 season with an injury on the opening kickoff of the 2nd game of the season (talk about rotten luck).  Now, he is second in the team in tackles and is known as one of the hardest hitters on the team.  He is another standout JUCO player the Cowboys picked up.  He has two passes broken up and he forced a key fumble against Georgia that helped swing momentum in favor of the Pokes.  He has good speed and he's not afraid to make the big hit, but unfortunately, like the rest of the secondary, he was not very good against Houston. 

Markelle Martin, SS:  Martin missed the first two games with an injury, and he was probably needed when the Cowboy defense got shredded by the Cougars.  He beat out Victor Johnson before the season for the starting role and reclaimed it against Rice, notching five tackles that game.  Martin has decent speed and height but probably needs to put on more weight.  He has little experience to speak of, playing only on special teams last season and just starting to play again against the Owls.

Perrish Cox, CB:  Senior Perrish Cox is perhaps their top guy in the secondary.  He has good size for a corner and he has great speed, which he used to become an All-American kickoff returner.  While an elite returner, he's not an elite CB, but he's not bad and can do a good job on most receivers.  He had a strong game against Georgia on A.J. Green, and he leads the team in PBUs by far with seven this season.  Cox was one of the few guys who did much of anything against Houston, but he is prone to give up big plays.

Terrance Anderson, CB:  Anderson comes in with some good experience in a backup role from last season.  He has decent size at 5'11, 190, but he isn't the greatest of tacklers.  He already has an interception and a recovered fumble, but he is by no means a playmaker like Cox can be.  He was a four star recruit out of high school but he does not have great speed to run with speedsters down the sideline.  He's a solid guy but he will struggle against elite passing attacks, as he did against Houston.

Depth:  Victor Johnson stepped in as the starting strong safety when Martin was out, and he did well against Georgia but not too hot against Houston.  JUCO transfer Maurice Gray jumps in as the nickelback and while undersized, he has track speed.  Another speedster is backup free safety Johnny Thomas who sees most of his time on special teams.

Not Bad for Oklahoma State

This is not an elite secondary, as was painfully shown against Houston, but I must say, I'm actually impressed with how Gundy has gathered these guys.  Some are JUCO transfers and many were rated well coming out of high school.  Cox is a playmaker and he will do things for them on defense and special teams, but he needs avoid the "feast or famine" label.  As far as safety, it will help the Pokes that Martin has returned, but he alone will not fix the problems we saw against the Cougars.

This unit really struggled against Houston's precise passing attack and had problems tackling and limiting YAC.  This will obviously be a big issue against teams like Texas Tech.  Aside from Cox, the starters do not possess great speed, which will not only leave them vulnerable to the deep ball but allow receivers in the short game to run free from them.  Antoine is a hard-hitter, but I remain skeptical about his discipline in coverage.

Pokes Fan:  Nervous about the Big 12 Schedule

OSU has a fine group of linebackers and a half-decent secondary, but against the offenses they will see this season, that may not be enough.  The front four this year is better than last season but not great, and that puts increased pressure on the back seven to make plays.  The linebackers are mostly fine unless they are called to drop back in coverage and figure out routes or attack running plays point blank.  Against Tech last year, the linebackers looked absolutely lost while Harrell zinged passes by their helmets to a receiver standing next to them, and Oregon's rushing attack destroyed this defense.

The secondary has some good athletes but the tackling is mediocre.  They did a poor job of covering quick routes against Houston and did a poorer job dropping the ball-catcher on the spot, leading to a death of a thousand cuts from Houston's relentless passing.  That might be okay if they weren't going to face a QB like Keenum again, but in the Big 12, they do not have that luxury.  I don't think these guys can cover our receivers if Colt has any sort of time, and while Texas Tech must play in Stillwater this year, if Potts is on, it may get pretty frustrating for the Pokes.

Okie State has a lot to prove after that embarrassing Houston loss.  With their offense not nearly as prolific as expected, the pressure on the defense has increased and they will definitely need to continue to improve if they want to seriously challenge for the Big 12 South title.  Unfortunately for Texas, the linebackers seem much better suited to handle our horizontal running scheme than a more downhill one.  In addition, while we can have success with our typical short passing attack, I think that allows their safeties off the hook.  If Texas stretches the field vertically and has any sort of rushing success, then this is not a defense that should be able to stop us at all.  If not, it might be a lot like last year where Colt has to climb uphill against a defense waiting for nothing but the short and intermediate ball.

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