By Nick Snow
CNHI News Service
What used to be the strength of the Oklahoma State football team has turned into the Achilles’ heel. A team that led the nation in turnovers is struggling to create a short field for its offense and has been torched through the air by Texas and Arizona.
But with eight games in eight weeks, some members of the Cowboys’ defense have circled Saturday’s matchup against Kansas as the week everything turns around.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes in the past few games,” Oklahoma State junior linebacker Caleb Lavy said. “We got this last bye week out of the way and we’re just ready to put our nose to the grindstone and get back in it. This bye week has been good for us in terms of recovery but we’re ready to get back to playing football the way we know how.”
That means creating more turnovers. Whether it’s putting more pressure on Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist or ripping the ball from running back Taylor Cox, turnovers have been a big emphasis for the Oklahoma State defense this week as it hopes to restore a little pride.
“We’ve been working on it every day,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “We worked on it (Sunday) night. We’re just emphasizing it to no end. Eventually it will turn around. The ball is going to bounce the right way or we’ll get a tipped pass. I’ve always felt turnovers come in droves and hopefully we’ll have one of those five turnover games soon and try to catch up. We’re definitely behind and we have to do something to make up ground.”
If turnovers are the main emphasis against Kansas, the second emphasis is just getting off the field. Texas’ ability to convert on third-and-long eventually cost the Cowboys two weeks ago.
As a team, Oklahoma State is seventh in the Big 12 on third-down conversions, allowing teams to convert 38.8 percent of the time. That number jumps to 66.7 percent of the time on fourth downs.
“It’s important to understand that third downs get you off the field, and sometimes in our league fourth downs have to get you off the field,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “If you watch games, the critical areas in college football are third downs, limiting big plays and taking care of the football. It’s not just one team, it’s just about everybody in the league. I think you’ll see that teams that play well on third down or fourth down, take care of the football, and try to eliminate the big plays are the ones that are winning.”
With one of college football’s best offensive gurus on the opposing sideline, Oklahoma State junior defensive tackle Davidell Collins said forcing third downs and slowing down Kansas’ offense will be the biggest challenge.
“They are with a different coach in Charlie Weis than they were last year so a lot of things will be different,” Collins said “They are balanced. They pass the ball well and run the ball well. If their run game is strong that week they run, and if their pass game is good, then they pass. It’s hard to see what they are going to do. We just try to watch as much film as we can to get us ready."
“Coach Weis is a great offensive guru, I think everybody knows that,” Lavy said “He’s a great coach and you just have to be ready for any play. You never know what he’s going to do and what weaknesses he’s going to try to exploit. It’s just a game where we have to be ready every snap. We have to know our job and we have to read our keys.”
Oklahoma St. at Kansas
2:30 p.m. today