By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER — One player doesn’t make or break a team or season, but for the Oklahoma State defense one player has most definitely made an impact in the past few weeks.
Linebacker Lyndell Johnson made his return against Iowa State two weeks ago after being sidelined since sustaining an injury in pre-game warmups in Arizona during Week 2 of the season.
It has been the return of Johnson which OSU coach Mike Gundy has pinpointed after the Cyclones win and the victory over Texas Christian University for the improved play of the Cowboy defense.
“It helps when we have (Johnson) back in certain situations. He’s long, he’s rangy and he can run,” Gundy said following Saturday’s win against TCU. “He has a body where he can play on third down whether its a run play or also help us in the passing game. He’s disruptive and distractive down field throwing a ball for a quarterback because he moves fast. It’s helped to get him back.”
Since Johnson’s return, the OSU defense has given up just 17 points. The Cowboys have also seen a jump in their takeaways — forcing five turnovers the past two games, after forcing just four in the previous five games.
“I’m glad to be back. Being on the sideline and watching games, I knew that if I was out there, I wouldn’t have let some of those big plays happen,” Johnson said. “But that’s part of the game of football. Injuries come and go, so you’ve just got to hope and pray that you can get back out there. Now I’m back, and I’m just glad to be out there on the field with my team making plays.”
The return of Johnson has been felt by his teammates.
“It was big. He moves around the field, and he’s a playmaker. To have a playmaker on your team just makes you that much better,” linebacker Alex Elkins said.
Gundy said the sophomore from Plano, Texas, reminds him of another member of the linebacking corps.
“I think he’s got a lot of what Shaun Lewis has in him, in that he tends to end up around the ball a lot. He’s going to be close to being (completely) healthy this weekend, in my opinion,” Gundy said. “He’ll bring a lot to us going against a team that had hand the ball off and run and also throw it.”
While Johnson typically doesn’t start for the defense — as he usually spells Lewis as his backup — the 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker is used more like a sixth man in basketball.
“That’s a great definition for him. And the sixth man can come in and they’re playing the final 30 minutes of the game,” Gundy said. “He gives us a lot in that area where we’re starting to bring him into special teams more, but we just didn’t want to overload his plate until we felt like he was 100 percent healthy.”
Jason Elmquist is the sports editor of the Stillwater NewsPress.