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Oklahoma State Quick Preview: Defense

Drew gives you a few players to watch on the Cowboy defense tonight.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t a vintage Oklahoma State defense. In fact, it’s one of the worst Cowboy defenses I can recall. South Alabama punished them on the ground, running for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns on 47 carries in a 33-7 road massacre of the Pokes. The following week (last week) Iowa State decided to destroy them through the air to the tune of 348 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27-38 passing. It appears the ground and aerial routes are open tonight, but I prefer the ground route for this Wildcat team.

Structurally, the Cowboy defense will look familiar. It’s essentially the Kansas State defense minus some talent and experience. They use 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs, including 3 safeties (told you it would look familiar). One of their outside linebackers tends to join the line as a stand-up end, although seeing a pure 3 man pass rush isn’t unusual.

Oklahoma State Defense

Base Defense

3-3-5

Players to Know

Red Arrow - #92 - Nathan Latu - Defensive End

A former JuCo transfer, the 6’4”, 265 Latu lines up as the right defensive end in Oklahoma State’s 3 man front. He leads their defensive linemen in tackles with 15, is tied for the team lead in sacks with 2, and has 3 tackles for loss.

Latu’s combination of speed and size reminds me of K-State’s Nick Matlack. He’s not a speed rusher, but he’s fast enough to get the job done when he overpowers an offensive tackle. He’s also strong enough to slide inside and out quick a guard without giving up too much in terms of run support because of his strength.

He’s the type of player you can run away from, but I don’t think it comes to that. K-State needs to keep an eye on him, but I don’t think he’s good enough individually to require special attention. If he does cause issues, look for the Coach Klein to move a tight end to his side to help, especially in the run game.

Green Box - #30 - Collin Oliver - Linebacker

Oliver is one of the best players on the Oklahoma State roster. He was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year (Coaches) in 2021, an ESPN Freshman All-American, and Second Team All-Big 12 (AP&Coaches). Last season he was Second Team All-Big 12 (2021).

Currently, he’s third in tackles (25), and 1st in tackles for loss (5) for O.S.U. He also has a sack. Pressure is the name of the game for Oliver. At 6’2”, 235, he’s on the short side for an edge rusher, but he’s good at getting under tackles when he turns the edge. At the same time, he struggles when longer defensive tackles get their hands on him early.

One place he could cause issues is on stunts that get him isolated on guards in pass rush situations. He excels at getting skinny and shooting gaps against bigger, slower offensive linemen, but can be over powered in both the run and pass game when confronted with a guard or tackle.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oliver check on returning starter Christian Duffie with a few speed rushes around the edge to make sure his knee is 100%. He’s the sort of explosive straight line rusher that has given both Wildcats tackles issues in the past. Coach Klein will need to provide support for the right tackle when needed.

Yellow Box - #4 - Nickolas Martin - Linebacker

Oklahoma State’s linebacker unit is best unit on the defense. Thus far in 2023, linebacker Nickolas Martin has to be considered their breakout defensive star. He’s small for a linebacker at 6’0”, 210 but has speed to burn and gets to the ball in a hurry. If he’s on the backside of a play, the offensive line has to cut him off, otherwise he’ll chase slower developing run plays down from behind. In O.S.U.’s win over Arizona State he contributed 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 sack.

Kansas State would be best served running right at Martin. He’s fast, but an agile pulling guard (or center) is his worst nightmare. He wants to play in space and use his speed. He can’t do that if the play is heading straight at him.

Purple Circle - #5 - Kendal Daniels - Safety

The reason Collin Oliver isn’t the best player on the Oklahoma State defense is Kendal Daniels also plays for the Oklahoma State defense. At 6’4”, 215, Daniels is a monster lurking in the deep middle for the Cowboys. As a freshman in 2022 he was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, a Freshman All-American (FWAA, CFN) and a Second Team All-Big 12 (Coaches) after recording 71 tackles, 6.5 tackls for loss, 3 interceptions, and 5 pass defenses.

Four games into his 2023 campaign he leads OSU in tackles with 31, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He’s also recovered a fumble. It’s generally a problem when a deep middle safety leads the team in tackles, because that means he’s making tackles in the second and third level of the defense. After watching the Arizona tape film, I’m convinced that’s what’s happening with Daniels. He’s a good tackler, but most of his tackles come well past the line of scrimmage. He almost plays like a linebacker, flowing to the ball and getting ball carriers on the ground, but he’s doing it 7-10 yards down the field instead of at the line of scrimmage.

Will Howard will need to keep an eye on him in pass coverage. He likes to move around the field, and shows up places you don’t expect. He’s also a big hitter capable of dislodging a receiver from the ball if they venture over the middle. Will needs to help his receivers, backs, and tight ends out and not put them in a position to get lit up by Daniels.

Overall

This defense has a few nice pieces, but I’m not impressed with them as a unit. How can I be after South Alabama steam rolled them like a G5 team?

That’s the formula for the Wildcats tonight. Run right at Oklahoma State with THE BEEF and D.J. Giddens until their undersized ends and backers have to be carried off the field from exhaustion. The Jaguars dominated the game despite only completing 10 passes. While I think Howard will complete a few more passes, South Alabama’s running back, La’Damian Webb ran for 151 yards on 18 carries (8.4 per carry) and found the end zone twice. This could be another huge game for D.J. and the offensive line and could help a returning Treshaun Ward find his groove.

This is a two runs for every one pass game for me. I don’t see how Oklahoma State wins this game without K-State turnovers and penalties, and handing the ball to your tailback is one of the safest plays in football. This game could push Giddens into the national spotlight because back to back 200 yard performances isn’t out of the question.