When you think Oklahoma State football, you think offense. Running backs like Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Kendall Hunter, Joseph Randle, and Chuba Hubbard. Quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden, Clint Chelf, Mason Rudolph, and current head coach Mike Gundy. A list of wide receivers to rival anyone’s that includes Justin Blackmon (the best college wideout ever), James Washington, Tylan Wallace, Rashuan Woods, Adarius Bowman, Josh Stewart, and Dez Bryant.
Most of those names are fairly recent products of the Mike Gundy era at OSU. Despite a few outlier years the defenses in Stillwater have been average at best. The 2011 squad was almost the best ever at causing turnovers and the 2013 group was more stout than most people remember, but most seasons playing defense was optional.
A Nasty Defense
If at any point during the modern era of Cowboy football I threw stats like these at you, the reaction probably would’ve been “Wow, great game by the defense!”
3-27 third down conversions allowed
276 total yard allowed
6 points allowed
You’d have been right. That’d be a pretty good day for a defense in the Big 12. Funny thing is that’s the last TWO GAMES COMBINED.
Yes, one of those teams was Kansas, but the Cowboy defense actually held West Virginia to less yards than the Jayhawks and eight of the nine sacks came against the Mountaineers.
The dominance of Kansas wasn’t really a surprise. They just aren’t very good. They raised some eyebrows against the Sooners, but that game was more about OU playing terrible than anything else. Destroying the Mountaineers was a bit more shocking. Just the week before WVU beat the Iowa State Cyclones (maybe with the help of the refs) by putting up 38 points and 492 total yards.
The Iowa State defense has been considered the best in the conference, with the Cowboys in the second spot, but based on recent action, it’s the Pokes who deserve the top spot. The OSU defense is not just the best defensive unit in the Big 12, but the one of the best overall defenses in the country. They’ve gotten better every week. They might be the best defense in the country behind Georgia and maybe a top five unit nationally period.
Bold statement? I don’t think it is.
We can ask Jarrett Doege what he thinks when he gets out of the ice bath he’s probably still sitting in while having flashbacks of Collin Oliver and Brock Martin charging at him from both sides. These guys are good. They rush relentlessly, stick like glue in coverage, tackle in open space, rarely make mistakes, and they hit hard. The best word I’ve seen to describe them is nasty, and honestly it fits perfectly.
The Genius Jim Knowles
The mastermind of this nasty defense is a man who I don’t think anyone would describe as nasty. Quirky? Maybe. Jim Knowles is Ivy League educated as a Cornell alum. He likes his cigars and rap music. He once told his guys he wasn’t going to yell at them in practice that day and instead he carried around a mug that said “that ain’t it” on the front and when one of his players messed up he just made eye contact and took a drink. He looks more like your favorite friendly uncle than a man that would teach a bunch of young kids how to become an offense’s worst nightmare. I like to refer to him a Jedi Knight from Star Wars, calling him Obi Wan Jim Knowlesbi on Twitter during the games.
I also like to tweet out “PAY JIM KNOWLES”, because it needs to happen. The man has to be on the short list for the Broyles Award for the nation’s best coordinator and one would think he’ll be a hot commodity this offseason for a variety of job openings. But I’m not here to write another piece about how OSU needs to give Knowles a raise if they plan on keeping him. I’ve already done that.
Is He Head Coaching Material?
Now my mind is wandering a little farther: should Knowles be the next head coach in Stillwater?
It just feels like we might have another Bob Stoops/Lincoln Riley situation where the long-in-the-tooth head coach hires just the right assistant and steps away maybe a little sooner than he thought he would. I’m not saying fire Gundy and replace him with Knowles and I’m also not foolish enough to think Gundy is stepping away after this year, but a “head-coach-in-waiting” designation (along with that raise) could make him think twice about that Group of Five head coaching offer or that SEC defensive coordinator job.
Kasey Dunn Factor
There’s also no guarantee that would keep him around, if he wants to leave. Gundy could coach 10 more years or Knowles could want to be a head coach now regardless of location. There’s also Kasey Dunn to consider. Dunn actually left when OSU started a search for a new OC two years ago instead of promoting him, but returned when Gundy decided he was important enough as a wide receiver coach (no one is a better developer of talent at that position) to give him what he wanted and let him call plays. He’s also currently the Associate Head Coach and generally believed to be Gundy’s successor. For what it’s worth, I think Dunn would be a better head coach than he is a play caller but I’m quite enamored with Knowles as a leader of men right now.
Where Dunn takes two and three-star receivers and makes them into all-conference players, All-Americans, and Biletnikoff winners, that hasn’t really translated over to the entire offense with him as offensive coordinator. Knowles has turned his entire group into a force to be reckoned with. He’ll have his fair share of all-conference players this year and with Malcolm Rodriguez probably an All-America and maybe a Butkus Award winner.
Knowles has proven his mettle as a coach and I’d be interested to see if the trust, love, effort, and respect he instills in his defense would translate to an entire team. Who knows if that happens at OSU or someplace like SMU or UTSA after their coaches get poached, or if he end up at an LSU or a USC as a coordinator making an even nastier defense with a bunch of five-star kids, but I sure hope he stays in Stillwater. If he manages to shut down TCU, Texas Tech, and the Sooners (twice) to end the season and his defense carries the Cowboys to a Big 12 Championship and a maybe even a College Football Playoff appearance, I might just actively say it’s time for Gundy to turn the keys over.