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Bulldogged: OSU Defense Gives SEC Foe Dose Of Its Own Medicine

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HOUSTON, Texas -

Glenn Spencer proposed a more aggressive approach on defense.

He talked to his team about tighter coverages, an improved pass rush and long list of defensive adjustments that had Oklahoma State fans nearly bursting with reserved optimism on the cusp of the season opener.

But it didn't take long for the mood to sour.

After Mississippi State marched 57 yards on 13 plays for a field goal on the game's opening drive, a lot of orange-clad loyalists likely slipped back into the, ‘Here we go again,' mentality. The old bend-but-don't-break approach seemed to be out in full force.

Then the defense turned a 180 and recorded one of its best performances in recent memory.

Spencer's troops kept the Cowboys in the game when the offense was stagnant, and then it stiffened and appeared to receive a jolt of energy when the points started going up on the board.

For the first time in years, the OSU defense was the storyline of the game and it wasn't a bad thing.

Actually, the defense was the driving force in OSU's 21-3 victory against Mississippi State on Saturday in Houston.

It marked not only the best defensive performance in Gundy's nine years in Stillwater, it was also the fewest points the Cowboys have allowed to an FBS opponent since 1995 when OSU beat Howard Schnellenberger's Sooners 12-0.

That's impressive in its own right, but it was also the fewest points Mississippi State had scored in a game since 1981.

RELATED: OSU vs. MSU By The Numbers

OSU has clearly increased its level of talent on defense. There is speed, size, experience, leadership and likely the best defensive line in the Gundy era, but it goes beyond that. Spencer's energy on the sideline was contagious with his unit. He fired up his players, chest bumping and high fiving after nearly every successful play – and there were a lot of them.

The SEC is known for its defense, its hard hits, smothering run coverage and opportunistic playmaking. However, it was the Cowboys who turned in the SEC-caliber performance.

OSU kept an MSU offense that averaged30 points per game in 2012 out of the end zone. The Cowboys limited them to 10 yards of offense in the third quarter. They forced two crucial turnovers, recorded three sacks and held the Bulldogs to just 2-of-16 on third-down conversions.

It was a well-rounded, complete performance and one they took great pride in after the game.

"We had guys flying to the ball," cornerback Justin Gilbert said. "We were making substitutions with our defensive line…we were moving around. Our guys were just making plays."

And play-making is the best way of putting it. After MSU scored on its opening drive, the remainder of its possessions went like this: interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, end of half, punt, punt, missed field goal and interception.

And this was an SEC foe who won eight games a season ago, not Savannah State.

RELATED: OSU Corrals Bulldogs In Opener

Outside of a dominating third quarter, there might be one possession that best embodied the swagger the defense exhibited at Reliant Stadium.

After OSU fought tooth-and-nail to finally get on the scoreboard and take a 7-3 lead with just 2:16 remaining in the first half, the good feelings evaporated almost immediately.

OSU's kickoff was fielded by Jameon Lewis, who returned it 65 yards to the Cowboys' 34-yard line. The momentum was gone and the orange portion of the stadium rendered temporarily silent.

Then MSU quarterback Tyler Russell was thrown down for a 3-yard loss on first down. After an 8-yard completion, MSU was called for holding. Then Russell fired a contested incompletion on third down.

Then, in relative no-man's-land for an offense, the Bulldogs elected to go for it on 4th-and-15 and Russell was promptly sacked by Tyler Johnson for a loss of 5.

That's something that just didn't happen last season.

It's impossible to expect OSU to maintain these defensive numbers against the pass-oriented offenses of the Big 12, but it is evident this is a defense the Cowboys can rely on as the offense gets settled back into its prolific ways.

There is still clearly work to be done – man-on-man coverage, identifying running backs in the flats, solidifying the middle of the field on third downs, etc. – but there is time to address it with UT-San Antonio and Lamar next up on the schedule.

If nothing else, it's a quality building block and a confidence boost that's been a long time coming.

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