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September 17, 2012If you look just past the spotlight on J.W. Walsh's offensive explosion and Wes Lunt's injury against Louisiana, you'll see an optical illusion.
That illusion was in the form of the defensive unit, which was obviously motivated by the loss to Arizona the prior week. In a game where everything went wrong, they got back to Stillwater and received news that defensive coordinator Bill Young would be returning to the sidelines. That was bad news for the Ragin' Cajuns.
What exactly changed for the Pokes? What did they do differently, and why did nothing turn out to be what it initially looked like it'd be?
"Start fast and keep our foot on the gas," safety Daytawion Lowe said. "That was our goal for this game."
It was a little bit deeper than that, and Lowe was one of the keys to the difference.
Against Arizona the Cowboys played conservatively and it proved to be fatal.
They've made a living off of zone coverage, which forced a ton of turnovers last season due to quick reactions from the players as passes were thrown into their area. This week, they took it one step further and placed emphasis on the zone blitzes that have been huge for them in the past, most notably against Texas A&M last September.
"We like changing our gaps, penetrating, and forcing the issue," Young said. "We put a little pressure on the quarterback and all of the sudden we're bringing two guys who they thought were dropping into coverage. At the same time, you have fills for the guys who went and maybe a few soft spots in the middle, but it cancels out because the quarterback is hitting early reads."
The zone-blitzes obviously paid off for the Cowboys, who ran them both disguised and openly. At some points, Young would line up in a "Cover 1" look, only to sink back into blanket coverage while Louisiana's quarterback was thinking the house was coming.
When the Pokes lined up in this, ULL quarterback Blaine Gautier often checked to his quick-reads and got the ball out of his hands, which is exactly why it worked. This type of disguised coverage frustrates the opposition if it's done correctly, and that's just what it did on Saturday.
At other points, Young lined up in Cover 2 looks with 7-yard cushions for the cornerbacks, only to bring extra rushers at the last second while leaving others back in an tight zone defense.
This is where Oklahoma State thrived last season, as balls were poorly thrown because of the pressure and defenders were playing so aggressively that they simply fell into their laps.
"It's something you try, and if it works you continue to go with it," Young said. "At the same time, it's a part of our defense. It gives you safe coverage, so we feel really good about our zone-blitz packages."
That's exactly how Lowe got his first sack of the season. He lined up deep, and broke for the backfield halfway through ULL's pre-snap cadence. The result was a punishing hit on Gautier's blind-side.
"I just came hard," he said. "I was trying to get the ball out, so I'm a little disappointed in myself about that. It was a great call by coach Young though."
Having Young back on the sideline not only "gives the defense an extra set of eyes" as coach Mike Gundy says, but it also brings a healthy aspect of what Young has down to a science, although most who don't understand would call it gambling.
With a slightly different offense that the Texas Longhorns bring, it'll be interesting to see what Young has up his sleeves in two weeks.
If it's anything like Louisiana, we're all in for a treat, and maybe even an optical illusion or two.