September 5, 2009

Big Time Win! OSU defense steps up against UGA

STILLWATER - In a game with as much hype as the Oklahoma State-Georgia matchup has been getting for, well, months, everyone was prepared for a tough game that would be close.

In the end, the game lived up to its billing, as the game turned into an old-school boxing match, with the No. 9 Cowboys and No. 13 Bulldogs trading punches the whole way. When the dust settled, the Cowboys came out on top, 24-10, in front of a record Boone Pickens Stadium crowd of 53,012.

OSU winning the game isn't the big shocker. It's in how they did it - with defense. Typically, the Cowboys (1-0) have been winning games with huge offensive stats. But today? They only put up 307 yards of total offense. On the other side, the OSU defense only allowed 257 yards of total offense - 80 of those yards came in the first five minutes of the game. So the rest of the way, the Cowboy defense allowed 177 yards and three points.

After the game, head coach Mike Gundy said he has more confidence in his defense, but today's performance was surprising.

"I expected our players to play very well and play better, because I like their cohesiveness as a unit," Gundy said. "They work well together and they care about each other. I was concerned when Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin couldn't play. From an experience standpoint, when you lose two players that have played a lot of plays, there's a concern because there's a concern because you have other players that will be competing that haven't played that much. But I'll be honest with you: I didn't think that they could play as well as they did in this opening game, especially without a couple of key guys."

But they did, taking on an SEC-style, tough-as-nails look to give Mark Richt and the Bulldogs (0-1) headaches all afternoon.

Good thing too, because the offense was as rusty as the underside of the old Lewis Field most of the way.

The first half saw the OSU offense sputter along, not doing much of anything at all. Well, aside from committing penalty after penalty. In all, the Pokes were flagged 10 times in the first two quarters, seemingly suggesting the team came out a little tight and over-thinking things a bit.

But the offense was jarred to life when Zac Robinson connected with Dez Bryant on a 46-yard touchdown pass in which No. 1 had to make a Superman-like flying move in order to reach the ball before hitting the ground. He reeled it in and put the Pokes on the board.

That definitely helped shift momentum for OSU, but things really turned around when Terrence Anderson recovered a fumble inside the Bulldogs' 10-yard-line, putting the Cowboys in prime position to throw another touchdown on the board before halftime. OSU had to settle for a field goal, however, but went into the locker room up 10-7.

Things kept going OSU's way to start the third quarter. On the kickoff, Perrish Cox almost took it all the way, racking up a 74-yard return. That paved the way for the Cowboys' second TD of the day, a one-yard keeper for Robinson.

Bryant put the final points on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, catching a 12-yard pass from Robinson, to make it 24-10, all but sowing up the victory. On the afternoon, Bryant caught three passes for 77 yards and two scores. Robinson was 11-of-22 for 135 yards and two TDs. The running game was pedestrian compared to usual, as Kendall Hunter ran for 75 yards on 23 carries, Keith Toston had 55 yards on 11 chances and Robinson posted 39 yards on nine tries, with one ground score.

"Offensively, we were very sloppy," Gundy said. "I don't think we turned it over, we did not turn the ball over. And when you win the turnover game, which we did - they had an interception and two fumbles - so we were plus three. By being plus three, in most cases you're going to win the game, so we talk about turnovers a lot. The one thing you didn't see was a lot of big plays. There was a number of skill players in this game with a lot of ability - you saw a couple of big plays but not as many as we had thought - so we were excited to get away with a win."

And they did it with defense. During the game, Gundy noticed coordinator Bill Young not only running the unit on the field, but coaching up the players on the sideline.

"When it was going on, he was calling defenses and I noticed, at times, he was turned around coaching guys that were standing behind him," Gundy said. "And over the last few months I've noticed his maturity and experience has helped this football team a lot. It's hard to call a defensive game and then turn around and talk to people behind you and coach. But I guess if you've done it 40 years, you can do that. So he's telling the ends about the mistakes the ends on the field made while the game is going on. And I was watching this and it was concerning me somewhat, but obviously it worked out."

Next up for the Pokes is another home game, this time against Houston. That kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports Net.

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