In a role reversal from past years, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have an extremely average offense and extremely strong defense.
In the offseason, head coach Mike Gundy made the decision to let go of former defensive coordinator Bill Young after a season in which the offense often put the defense in bad spots, leading to some performances that looked poor on the final scoreboard, but weren't as bad as they appeared on the surface.
Enter former assistant Glenn Spencer, whose only other experience as a defensive coordinator was in 1997 at West Georgia. Spencer has supposedly increased the aggressiveness of the Oklahoma State defense, and while that doesn't necessarily appear to be the case on film, the Cowboys are once again forcing turnovers by the handful, much like in 2011, but doing so without conceding so many yards in between takeaways.
Let's break down Spencer's improved group by the numbers.
In the FEI's explosive drives measurement, the number of drives where opponents average 10 or more yards per play. While the Pokes have given up 128 plays of 10 or more yards, the Cowboys rank tied for 10th nationally in giving up only 28 plays of 20 or more yards -- this is still a bend-but-don't-break defense that reduces big plays, but is fine with giving up plays between 10 and 19 yards.
The ranking in S&P+ for Oklahoma State. In looking past the impressive overall number, the Cowboys aren't quite elite on passing downs, standard downs, against the run, or against the pass. Where they really excel is in drive efficiency, keeping opponents from scoring as many points as expected based on field position.
Interestingly enough, despite ranking No. 84 in total defense last year, the team ranked No. 12 in S&P+, a testament to the strength of offenses in the Big 12 last year.
The number of interceptions for the Cowboys this season, which ranks tied for seventh in the country. Last season, the Cowboys had only 11, despite fielding essentially the same secondary, with the exception of graduate transfer Tyler Patmon, the former Jayhawk who has held down the cornerback position opposite of Justin Gilbert, who has rebounded from a disappointing junior season to record four interceptions this year after inexplicably failing to grab one in 2012.
What stands out about the overall numbers is that the linebackers have combined for seven interceptions, with Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey each having three -- the two are dangerous in pass coverage and Case McCoy will have to be aware of them in underneath coverage.
The number of consecutive times that Oklahoma State has stopped opponents trying to convert 3rd and 7 or longer -- this team suffocates opponents in long down-and-distance situations and ends drives. Case McCoy has been successful in those areas at times, but it will be difficult to continue that on Saturday.
Percentage of opponent touchdowns on red zone trips against the Oklahoma State, good for 12th in the country. Texas struggled in that area against West Virginia and has been downright terrible in the red zone scoring touchdowns this year, converting only 54.84% of trips down close to opposing goal lines. The Horns may have to convert, because while the Oklahoma State offense hasn't been particularly
The Cowboys are not a strong team in picking up sacks, so Case McCoy should be relatively safe in drop-back situations, but the running game could struggle to consistently pick up yardage, as all three linebackers are active behind the line of scrimmage, led by Lavey, the middle linebacker. All told, the three starting 'backers have combined for 22.5 tackles for loss on the season. By comparison, the entire Navy defense has only 28 total.
The ranking nationally in FEI's Me, the measurement of methodical drives by opponents -- the percentage of opponent drives that average 10 or more plays. Creating explosive plays is difficult against Oklahoma State, but the bend-but-don't-break nature of the defense means that opponents can grind out drives, something that Texas may have to do Saturday to create points.
The defensive strength of schedule so far this season for Oklahoma State, suggesting that the defense has benefited from facing the weaker part of the schedule to start Big 12 play. With Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor still looming for the Pokes, things are about to get difficult, as Spencer and his defense will go against the ninth-hardest remaining schedule in college football -- there's some potential for this defense to get exposed.