STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State will finally unleash Jim Knowles’ attacking 4-2-5 defense in the season opener Thursday night against Missouri State.
Knowles was the defensive coordinator at Duke for seven years before joining the Cowboys during the offseason. Duke ranked in the top 25 nationally in scoring and total defense last season. Oklahoma State’s players like the possibilities as they try to improve a unit that ranked 79th nationally in total defense and 116th in passing yards allowed last season.
“I feel as if this defense is more aggressive,” defensive tackle Darrion Daniels said. “It’s a high risk, high reward type of thing. There are a lot of moving parts. Before I get my hand down, I’ll turn around, get a call, and when I turn around right before the play the DBs and linebackers are always moving, always doing something different, so there are a lot of disguises.”
Safety Kenneth Edison-McGruder said the Cowboys have the right tools to run the defense effectively. He believes positive results will show up quickly.
“It’s going to be a shocker to a lot of people,” Edison-McGruder said. “They know coach Knowles’ concept, but they don’t have any film of our defense running it. We’ll be solid in the first game. I feel comfortable with the defense and I feel comfortable with everyone else right now.”
The Cowboys will try to put the pressure on Missouri State quarterback Peyton Huslig. He passed for 1,981 yards and rushed for 621 last season while earning honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors last season.
Oklahoma State senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius replaces Mason Rudolph , the longtime starter who now is with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cornelius said he feels ready to take over, especially since he’s had Mike Yurcich as his offensive coordinator his entire stay with the program. Cornelius has completed 15 of 24 passes for 220 yards and has rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries in his career. Cornelius held off Hawaii transfer Dru Brown and freshman Spencer Sanders to earn the job.
Oklahoma State lost Biletnikoff Award winner James Washington to the Steelers, starter Marcell Ateman to the Oakland Raiders and reserve Chris Lacy to the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys have three productive returnees in Jalen McCleskey, Dillon Stoner and Tyron Johnson. McCleskey was third on the team with 50 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns last season. Stoner had 44 catches for 576 yards and six scores. Johnson had 18 catches for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill shies away from attention, but his play makes up for it. He enters his junior season with 2,609 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing in his career, and he’s set to enter the school’s top 10 lists in several major categories this season. Hill could be targeted more in the passing game now that receivers James Washington, Marcell Ateman and Chris Lacy have moved on. Hill had 31 receptions last season.
Missouri State has 42 newcomers on its roster — 24 freshmen and 18 transfers. Five true freshmen and six transfers found spots on the season-opening two-deep roster. The Bears needed the boost — they are a Football Championship Subdivision program coming off a 3-8 season.
Missouri State returns nine starters from last year’s defense, including first-team preseason All-MVFC pick Angelo Garbutt and second-team choice Darius Joseph. Garbutt led Missouri State team with 84 tackles last season. Joseph, a cornerback, was fifth on the team with 54 tackles and had an interception and four pass breakups a year ago.
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