By JOHN TRANCHINA
STILLWATER — Don’t call Oklahoma State’s revamped defense “aggressive.”
New defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has added some new wrinkles, and many observers have been using that word to describe the changes.
But Spencer, now preparing for Saturday’s opener against Mississippi State in Houston, doesn’t like labeling his particular brand of football.
“I haven’t said (the word aggressive), that’s being said a lot,” said Spencer, who was promoted after four years as the Cowboys’ linebackers coach, replacing Bill Young. “All I know is, we just try to get them to play hard every snap. We try to get them to know situations and to execute what we want them to. We’re demanding on them, we try to get them to be accountable to each other, and until you do that on a Saturday afternoon when the scoreboard’s on, all the talk doesn’t mean anything.”
As far as coach Mike Gundy is concerned, the Oklahoma State defense won’t be dramatically different from the unit that ranked sixth among the 10 Big 12 schools last season as the Cowboys went 8-5.
“Glenn has been here for a number of years, so he was very familiar with our personnel,” Gundy said. “We really haven’t adjusted very much on defense, it’s more of an attitude and a little bit of an approach.”
Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, a senior who was All-Big 12 last season, feels that there is a greater sense of camaraderie in the group.
“He’s really helped us come together as a defense,” Barnett said of Spencer. “A lot of us hang out even more. There’s always going to be groups within the team, but the groups have gotten bigger. We do a lot more together and that’s really helped our defense a lot. He wants to be more aggressive, but at the same time, he’s not letting us forget that we still are a family.”
There’s that word again. Senior cornerback Justin Gilbert also used it.
“From my point of view, that’s pretty much how you can describe our defense,” said Gilbert, who also serves as the team’s top kick returner. “He might have another word for aggressive as to how he’s saying it, but we’re pretty aggressive on defense right now. We’re playing tighter coverage at the back end, as opposed to playing soft, to allow those little five-yard gain plays.”
Senior safety Daytawion Lowe agreed.
“We’ve been playing aggressively,” Lowe said. “We’re challenging the receivers to catch the ball and making the quarterbacks put it in a tight window. That’s what every defensive player wants. You get turnovers that way.”
Mississippi State knows that the defense they face Saturday will not exactly match the one they’re watching on film from last year, and that makes preparing for them a little more difficult.
“They’re going to have a new personality this year because of a new coordinator, so part of it is you don’t know exactly what you’re going to see out of this year’s team,” said coach Dan Mullen. “But from what you’ve seen in the past, you see sound fundamentals, a sound team schematically and they really force you to earn things.”
Spencer will admit that he has made several adjustments, emphasizing specific aspects of the game he would not divulge.
“We’re stressing a lot of things that I personally wanted to improve on from last year, that I wanted to see different,” he said. “Without pinpointing anything, that’s left to be seen by what we do when we line up.”
Senior linebacker Shaun Lewis wouldn’t categorize Oklahoma State’s defense either, but he does believe they will be more effective than last season.
“The guys are more aware of what’s going on as a unit,” said Lewis, who enters 2013 with a streak of 32 consecutive starts. “They understand that the defense works together, we’re all interconnected. The DBs work off the linemen, the linemen work off the linebackers, it all fits together. Guys are more aware of their job titles.”
And as long the Cowboys’ defense can keep the ball out of their end zone, they don’t really care what you call it.