Yesterday we took a look at the overall strengths and situational weaknesses of what will surely be one of the better offenses in the country in 2009. But to stay in the Top 10 this year, OSU will need to have a defense that can at least slow down the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Georgia, and (hopefully they fit into the "dangerous" category) Missouri. Will they?
S&P+: 113.2 (#27)
Standard Downs S&P+: 104.2 (#49)
Redzone S&P+: 98.8 (#63)
Q1 S&P+: 130.8 (#11)
1st Down S&P+: 104.2 (#51)
Rushing S&P+: 108.6 (#41)
Standard Downs: 99.8 (#65)
Redzone: 115.1 (#28)
Line Yards+: 115.9 (#17)
Passing S&P+: 115.8 (#17)
Standard Downs: 117.7 (#27)
Redzone: 88.6 (#87)
Adj. Sack Rate: 2.7% (#119)
My ongoing theory about OSU's defense was that they were decent in September, unbelievable in October, and poor afterward. Looking at individual game "+" scores, that seems just about right (click to enlarge).
In actuality, OSU's defense seemed to thrive, in part, with the element of surprise. I think about 98% of Missouri fans would have voted for last year's OSU Defensive Coordinator, Tim Beckman, for Assistant of the Year, after watching the 'Poke D confuse Chase Daniel like nobody else had in his three years as starter. He just could not get a feel for where OSU was attacking from and when they dropping into coverage. Colt McCoy was similarly confused--seriously, holding both Missouri and Texas under 30 points was an extremely impressive accomplishment. Between those two games, they also held Baylor to just 6 points. Beckman emptied his bag of tricks, apparently, in the process. When October turned into November, OSU was tapped out. They looked decent against Iowa State, but they gave up 56 points to Texas Tech, 61 to Oklahoma, and 42 to Oregon to end the season. All three of those teams had outstanding offenses, but OSU had fallen from one of the top 2-3 defenses in the league to being distinctly average, or even a little worse.
The downward trend, combined with Beckman's departure to Toledo, make this an impossible defense to figure out for 2009. To meet expectations, the Cowboy D needs to closely resemble its pre-October form, but can it? Was the success due to Beckman's pulling of the strings? Did they just run out of gas? Hard to tell, though it bears mentioning that OSU's biggest regression in terms of pre- and post-November 1 numbers came in Q4. Their Q4 Success Rates + fell from 148.3 before November 1 to 84.6 after, a 42.9% drop. Q4 PPP+ fell 35.9%, and overall Q4 S&P+ fell 36.4%. Sounds like they may need a bit of extra conditioning work this summer.
Looking at OSU's full-year numbers, here's what we know for sure (or at least almost for sure):
- Speed in the secondary paid off. OSU's success rate figures were only decent in pass defense, but they were able to limit the big play pretty well. I say that was because of speed--it could have also been due simply to good tackling or good positioning of the safeties. With guys like Perrish Cox back there, though, speed does appear to be an asset in Stillwater.
- It is quite possible that the LBs made the DL look good at times. OSU's LB corps is absolutely a strength of this defense, and considering OSU's atrocious sack rates and good line yardage figures, it's possible that the LBs' tackling ability prevented a lot of big rushing plays.
- The D-Line was quite possibly a liability. Here's a list of FBS teams with worse Adjusted Sack Rates than Oklahoma State: Idaho. That's it. That's awful. They faced some of the best offensive lines in the country--Texas Tech (#1), Oklahoma (#2), Missouri (#5)--but...Idaho!
- The per-quarter numbers lend credence to the idea that Beckman's gameplans were the best thing OSU had going for them. They were dominant in Q1 but started to fade thereafter. This makes sense thinking back to the MU-OSU game. MU drove for a (controversial) field goal on their first drive (controversial, both because Gary Pinkel probably should have gone for it on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, and because Chase Coffman quite possibly scored a TD on second down), but they followed that drive up with their first three-and-out of the season and only managed three points in their four second-quarter drives. Granted, Mizzou missed two field goals in the process, but facts are facts--OSU shut Mizzou down like nobody had in two years.
- Once leveraged into Passing Downs, opponents' offenses were very much vulnerable to a big play from the Cowboy Defense. They were okay on Standard Downs, but quite good on Passing Downs and third downs.
The biggest story of the offseason for the OSU defense has been the return of Defensive Coordinator Bill Young to his alma mater. Young has a strong resume, having served as coordinator for an improving Kansas defense from 2003-07 and as Miami-FL DC last year. What change can be expected with Young at the helm? Here are the first-year totals and changes from Young's tenures in Lawrence and Miami.
Needless to say, at both Kansas and Miami-FL, Young wasn't replacing a DC who had done well enough to earn himself a head coaching job at a mid-level FBS school. At Kansas, he inherited one of the worst defenses in the country (seriously...6.8 yards per play??) and made them relatively respectable; he also created the "How to Stop Brad Smith" blueprint that everybody in the North not named Kevin Cosgrove followed for the next three seasons, for what that's worth. At Miami, he took over a respectable defense (33rd in Total Defense in 2007) and made them a bit better (28th) despite a youth movement. In Stillwater, if you are to see improvement, it will probably be more of the Miami variety. OSU is experienced but not particularly deep, but if they're simply better able to execute in the fourth quarter this year, it could make a hefty difference.
2008 Unit Ranking: #55 in the nation (#6 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
DE Ugo Chinasa (6'5, 253, Jr.)
DE Derek Burton (6'3, 285, Sr.)
DT Swanson Miller (6'4, 300, Sr.)
DT Shane Jarka (6'3, 285, Jr.)
DE Richetti Jones (6'3, 253, So.)
DE Jeremiah Price (6'2, 260, Sr.)
DT Chris Donaldson (6'2, 286, Jr.)
DT Nigel Nicholas (6'3, 285, RSFr.)
Young's first task: put together a better defensive line. Due to solid line yardage figures, OSU's defensive line ended up getting at least a moderately respectable #55 ranking, but if OSU has any chance of challenging OU and Texas for South supremacy in 2009, they must figure out how to get to opposing quarterbacks. They have had plenty of recruiting success over the years--starters Ugo Chinasa and Derek Burton were both 4-star recruits in 2006, as was Richetti Jones. But the three of them combined for just 14.0 TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 2008, an unacceptably low number. The projected starting tackles added just 6 more TFLs. Jones is another year removed from a freak hip injury that limited him most of both his redshirt and redshirt freshman seasons, and that should help, but wherever it comes from, production simply must improve in 2009. The experience appears to be there; now the play-making must follow.
2008 Unit Ranking: #20 in the nation (#4 in the Big 12)
The play-making that did exist on this defense came from the linebacker position. Patrick Lavine, Orie Lemon, and Andre Sexton combined for 13.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 INTs, 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 10 QB Hurries, 15 passes broken-up, and a blocked kick (against Missouri, no less). There are certainly better LB units in the country, but when OSU was thriving in October, particularly against Missouri, this unit was the reason why. They are extremely experienced in 2009 (and, consequently, they will be as green as green can be in 2010), and they must take further leadership of the defense.
2008 Unit Ranking: #29 in the nation (#7 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
CB Perrish Cox (6'0, 195, Sr.)
CB Terrance Anderson (5'11, 185, Sr.)
S Johnny Thomas (6'0, 195, So.)
S Lucien Antoine (6'1, 215, Sr.)
CB Maurice Gray (5'9, 180, Sr.)
S Markelle Martin (6'1, 190, So.)
S Victor Johnson (6'1, 190, So.)
CB Brodrick Brown (5'8, 180, RSFr.)
Again, Oklahoma State has recruited well here. Of the eight names above, an impressive five (Cox, Anderson, Gray, Martin, Johnson) were 4-star recruits via Rivals.com. Cox is highly experienced and one heckuva kick returner, but for three years he's been feast-or-famine at CB. He makes plenty of big plays, but he allows plenty too. As a senior, he should be a little bit more stable. Terrance Anderson showed promise in his junior season, with 1.5 TFLs and a pick, but he'll need to contribute more.
Aside from defensive end, the safety position could be the most make-or-break position on the field for OSU. Quinton Moore and Ricky Price (151 tackles, 6 TFLs, 10 passes broken-up) made nice contributions, and some combination of Thomas, Antoine, Martin, and Johnson will need to at least produce what Moore and Price did last year. OSU's secondary benefitted greatly from my strength of schedule adjustment, but while they were strong in terms of big plays allowed (PPP+), stats like Success Rate+ and completion percentage allowed (62.9% in 2008) need to improve.
2008 Unit Ranking: #6 net punting, #2 punt returns, #18 kickoff returns
If Quinn Sharp is even slightly competent, this unit is one of the best in the conference. Dan Bailey was perfect on PATs and 15-for-19 on field goals (13-for-14 inside 40 yards); meanwhile Cox (29.8 KR average, 2 TDs...it seems like he's been returning kicks for OSU since 2002) and Bryant (17.9 PR average! 2 TDs) are the most dangerous return duo in the country outside of possibly Gainesville (though Florida has a solo returner, not a duo). With OSU in the South and Nebraska (less so) in the North, we could definitely see how much difference a great special teams unit can make in the conference race in 2009. We know what a bad special teams unit can do to you (hello, 1998 Missouri), but we'll see how big the upside is.
It does appear that Bill Young's got some athletes to work with here, and experienced ones to boot. If the projected starters hold, OSU will start eight seniors in 2009, including very proven quantities at linebacker. Young is a good defensive coordinator, but it's hard to tell what to expect from his defense this year since it appears that Tim Beckman's gameplans were the best thing they had going for them in 2008. I don't foresee a ton of improvement from this unit in 2009, but if they can manage to be a bit more consistent year-round, and if they can simply improve marginally in the fourth quarter (or at least, don't fall apart in November fourth quarters), then they might make enough plays to pave the way for the offense to win the game for them.
Last week, when talking about Nebraska, I mentioned that it was the offense's job not to lose the game and the defense's job to win it. In Stillwater, it's the exact opposite. Just make some plays, make stops on passing downs, and force some turnovers, and if Dez Bryant has any help in the receiving corps, then OSU could be on its way to ten wins. I don't think they have enough to win the South, but this should be a damn good team.
Projections on Friday.