No. 7 Oklahoma State dominating on defense to B12 title game

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Mike Gundy was an Oklahoma State quarterback who handed the ball off to Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. As the Big 12’s longest-tenured coach, he has overseen many big-play and high-scoring offenses led by other All-Americans.

Now Gundy is just trying to stay out of the way with the seventh-ranked Cowboys being defensive-minded and headed to their first Big 12 championship game.

“It’s just important that we stay the course,” Gundy said. “I just let everybody do their job, not mess with them.”

The Cowboys (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) have a suffocating defense that is demoralizing opposing teams and their quarterbacks, allowing 164.3 yards per game and only one offensive touchdown over their past four games. The latest was a 23-0 win over a Texas Tech team that hadn’t been shut out at home since 1987 – when Gundy, now the 17th-year coach, was still quarterback for the Cowboys playing in a different league.

Asked if he could sense on the sideline how much the defense wanted a shutout Saturday night, when the Cowboys locked up their title game spot, Gundy responded, “I stay as far away as I can, so I don’t mess them up.”

Before playing in the Big 12 championship game, Oklahoma State hosts Bedlam at home in what could be the first of two games in two weeks against 10th-ranked Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1). The six-time defending Big 12 champion Sooners get into the Dec. 4 title game with a win over the Cowboys next Saturday night, or a loss by ninth-ranked Baylor (9-2, 6-2) earlier that day to Texas Tech.

“This is why I came back … to get a Big 12 championship, and honestly beat OU,” said linebacker Devin Harper, one of Oklahoma State’s super seniors.

For these Cowboys, who haven’t beaten Oklahoma since 2014 or won a conference title since 2011 when there wasn’t a Big 12 championship game, there could be even bigger things this season.

Oklahoma State will certainly move up from ninth in the new College Football Playoff ranking this week after lopsided losses Saturday by Oregon and Michigan State ahead of them. The Cowboys then have the opportunity to get two victories over 10-win teams, whether twice over Oklahoma or once each over the Sooners and Baylor, which would have to get its 10th win to play in the Big 12 title game.

“We take it game by game. We’ve been in the water forever, we see land and we’ve just got to keep pushing,” Harper said. “We’ve got to beat OU, and whoever we play in the Big 12 beat them, and talk about the playoff then.”

Texas Tech, which had scored in 302 consecutive games since a shutout loss at Nebraska in 1997 a decade after last being held scoreless at home, didn’t even reach 100 yards in total offense until a 25-yard pass on the final drive. The Red Raiders finished with 108 yards on 57 plays, including 13 that lost yards and 21 incomplete passes.

Red Raiders redshirt quarterback Donovan Smith, who was 25-of-35 passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns against Iowa State in his first start the previous week, finished 9 of 29 for 83 yards. Texas Tech had only 31 yards in the first half, including two completions for negative yards.

It was the third week in a row for Oklahoma State stymying a quarterback coming off a standout game.

TCU’s Chandler Morris had 531 total yards (461 passing) and three TDs in a win over Baylor before throwing for 103 yards and having minus-25 yards rushing against the Cowboys. West Virginia’s Jarret Doege had only 109 yards passing against them a week after he threw for 370 yards and three TDs against Iowa State.

Oklahoma State receiver Tay Martin, who had seven catches for 130 yards against Texas Tech, described his defensive teammates as relentless and hard working.

“So for me to even be able to go against them guys at practice, it’s an opportunity for me to get better in my game,” Martin said. “I take pride in just trying to get open on them because the stuff they do on game days is unreal. And I’m grateful to be a part of that and just have that type of defense on my side.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.