Linebacker Caleb Lavey intercepted a pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown with 1:06 left in the game to seal the Orange Team's 17-7 win over the White team in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Oklahoma State's spring finale Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium.
Lavey's Orange teammate, cornerback Justin Gilbert, turned in a performance Saturday that was indicative of his spring as a whole, picking off two passes and returning one for 64 yards and the other for 44 yards.
Gilbert was one of the most talked-about Cowboys during spring drills after returning to OSU for his senior season rather than declaring for the NFL Draft and he didn't disappoint, becoming a central figure associated with Oklahoma State's more aggressive defensive philosophy under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer.
"Justin played very average last year, and he would be the first to admit that," Coach Mike Gundy said. "He's certainly very talented, and he was in position to make plays today, and that's what he needs to do for us. He needs to be a guy who has several interceptions and runs the ball back. As fast he as he is, if he's in the right area, he can get the ball off a tip--and that's what he did today. He played very well."
Another key storyline surrounding the Cowboys during the spring was if OSU was going to be able to generate a pass rush after having last year's two-deep at defensive end decimated by graduation. The Orange defense and the White defense combined for eight sacks (four apiece) and 11 tackles for loss (seven for the White and four for the Orange) in the spring finale.
Leading the way up front was defensive end Jimmy Bean, who registered two sacks and a fumble recovery for the White team and fellow White defensive end Taylor May, who finished with two tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry.
It should be noted that first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich utilized only a small fraction of the playbook in his playcalling selections.
"We were very vanilla with what we were doing on offense for two reasons. First, because we believe that's what's best for Oklahoma State football right now, and second, because with our style of play, guys were out there who haven't played much," Gundy said. "We just couldn't run as many plays and schemes as we would on any given day."
Orange quarterback Clint Chelf completed 17-of-34 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and White quarterbacks Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh split the reps evenly, with Lunt completing 15-of-27 passes for 122 yards with no touchdowns and an interception and Walsh completing 13-of-23 passes for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Playing only a limited number of reps in the spring finale was running back Jeremy Smith, who carried the ball six times for two yards. Desmond Roland, his primary backup, carried the ball only seven times for 28 yards. Smith will be called upon in the fall to fill the running back spot vacated by Joseph Randle's departure to the NFL, with Roland moving a second-team role that will put him in position to be a key part of the offense for the first time in his career.
"I think our run game is going to be fine," Gundy said. "It's all based on how a defense wants to defend us. We're going to rush the football and we're going to throw it. We're not going to change what we do. Obviously, Jeremy [Smith] has to be the guy now, and Desmond [Roland] backs him up. We've got some other kids coming in who will compete - we've always played our freshmen running backs - so depending on how people play us, that will tell us how much we're going to run the football."
That said, there's no question that the defense held the advantage in the spring finale.
"I enjoyed it," Gundy said of the defense controlling the action. "I know the crowd here is not used to it. We dropped some passes on offense that contributed to it, but I'm really excited about the play we're getting on defense. In the long run, we're going to move the ball and score a lot of points here, because that's what we do and who we are, but if we want to consistently compete for a championship, we have to play better on defense. I'm excited about our group, I think their attitude is different and I think they have a chance to be better this season.
The Cowboys open the season Aug. 31 when they face Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston.