By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
STILLWATER (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy believes his defense has the goods to support the team’s well-known offensive firepower.
The Cowboys return the key offensive players from last year’s 10-3 squad that won the Alamo Bowl. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receivers James Washington and Jalen McCleskey are national honors candidates, and running back Justice Hill was the conference Newcomer of the Year last season.
The defense hopes to make some noise this season, too, and possibly propel the Cowboys to the Big 12 title and a slot in the College Football Playoff. Gundy said the unit has held its own in practice so far and has embraced facing some of the nation’s best talent each day.
“It’s human nature for an offense or a defense to feel like they want to do their part, but I also think that they (the defensive players) use that to their advantage because I see them at practice, and when one of the corners or safeties will cover James Washington or Jalen McCleskey, they like it,” Gundy said. “Their body language is saying ‘I’m doing my part,'”
The defense had some strong performances late last season, offering hope that the unit won’t put too much pressure on the offense. Oklahoma State held TCU to 343 yards in a 31-6 win to get in position to compete for the Big 12 title. After slipping against Oklahoma, the Cowboys bounced back and held Colorado to 318 yards in a 38-8 victory in the Alamo Bowl.
Some of the talent that produced those results is gone. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor and safety Jordan Sterns — both AP All-Big 12 first-team picks — have moved on. Still, the Cowboys have solid players coming back. Safety Tre Flowers is a preseason all-Big 12 pick. Cornerback Ramon Richards has moved to safety after starting 23 games at cornerback. Linebacker Chad Whitener was a second-team All-Big 12 pick by the coaches last season. In all, five starters and 21 lettermen return on that side of the ball.
“We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes against some high-potent offenses, and we have a high-potent offense as well,” Whitener said. “Going against these guys and doing what we do all the time just gets us ready to take on everything. We’re ready to go.”
Adrian Baker, a transfer from Clemson, should help the Cowboys deal with Richards’ position switch and the loss of cornerback Ashton Lampkin. Defensive linemen Cole Walterscheid and Jarrell Owens should be anchors.
“I see hungry players trying to make a name for themselves, competing every day, and they are getting better every day,” Flowers said.
Richards said the talent is there, and the players just need to buy into defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s plans and stay focused.
“If everyone takes personal ownership, then we should be great,” Richards said.
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