In many ways, this Oklahoma State defense mirrors that of Washington (or at least that of Washington through the majority of the season). A very strong front seven that is competent against the run and excels at rushing the passer coupled with a weak secondary that struggles to stop the pass.
That being said, the resemblance is more in the profile and less in the overall quality. Washington, especially late in the season, fielded a superior defense.
Oklahoma State ranked 93rd in total defensive yards allowed (437.3), 89th in yards allowed per play (5.8), 100th in points allowed per game (32), 113th in passing yards allowed (269), 110th in passing yards allowed per play (7.8), 68th in rushing yards allowed per game (168), and 56th in rushing yards allowed per play (4.10).
The star of this entire defense is DE Emmanuel Ogbah (So., 6-4, 270). The All-Big-12 1st Team selection recorded 46 total tackles, 11 sacks, and 17 TFL.
DT James Castleman (SR., 6-2, 300) and NT Ofa Hautau (Sr., 6-2, 290) provide a veteran presence in the middle of the line. Castleman totaled 42 tackles, 6.5 TFL, and 2 sacks. Hautau was credited with 28 tackles, 4.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks.
Finally, DE Jimmy Bean (Jr., 6-5, 250) contributed 41 tackles, 6.5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks.
Ogbah is obviously the player to watch. A pass rusher with his level of athleticism at 270 pounds is extremely rare at the college level. LT Micah Hatchie will have his hands full in his final college start, and he will likely need some help from a chipping back to keep Cyler clean.
SLB Josh Furman (Sr., 6-2, 202), ILB Ryan Simmons (Jr., 6-0, 235), WLB Seth Jacobs (So., 6-2, 220).
Furman put together an impressive regular season, including 58 tackles, 12 TFL, and 6 sacks. He appears quite a bit undersized, but he still managed to spend a lot of time behind the line of scrimmage.
Simmons was 2nd on the team with 93 tackles while also chipping in 11 TFL and 2 sacks. Jacobs managed 83 tackles, 5 TFL, and 2 INTs.
Without having watched more than a handful of Oklahoma State games, I can't comment too much on linebacker play beyond that this is a solid group. Simmons and Furman were impressive rushing the passer and terrorizing ball carriers in the backfield, and the team as a whole did an acceptable job of stopping the run.
CB Kevin Peterson (Jr., 5-11, 185), CB Ramon Richards (Fr., 6-0, 180), SS Tre Flowers (RSFr., 6-3, 190), FS Jordan Sterns (So., 6-1, 205).
Peterson is really the only veteran starter in this group. Richards and Flowers are both first-year players, while Sterns is a first-year starter. CB Ashton Lampkin (Jr., 5-11, 180) and S Larry Stephens (Sr., 5-10, 185) are the first DBs to rotate in.
Sterns led the team in tackles with 98 (5.5 TFL). Richards picked off a team-high three passes, with Lampkin just behind him with 2.
As previously mentioned, this defense struggled against the pass above all else. This being the Big-12, the raw numbers don't look so bad. It's the per play averages (7.8ypa allowed) and the overall scoring numbers (32 points allowed per game) that are more indicative of the secondary's issues.
Cyler isn't the type of world-beating QB that can truly exploit this young secondary, but he can certainly pick away at them with his typical cautious efficiency as long as the run game can remain a factor.
That puts a lot of pressure on Dwayne Washington, the back that somehow found himself 3rd or 4th in the committee at times this season before reemerging in the wake of Shaq's return to defense to rack up three straight 100+ yard rushing days to finish out the year.
Oklahoma State has above-average size on the defensive line and is comfortable sending extra men on running or passing downs (not a bad idea considering Cyler's issues against the blitz), so it's imperative that Dwayne and his run blockers get it going early.
If the offense falls into quick three-and-out mode in the 1st quarter, something we saw often in the regular season, and Oklahoma State grabs even a slim lead, it could force Cyler into more and more long passing downs. This would play right into the hands of the Cowboys and sack-specialist Emmanuel Ogbah.
However, as long as the offense can stay balanced and avoid horrific penalties and backwards plays, I believe right around 28 points is both a realistic expectation and likely all that Washington will need to win.