If you believe the chatter coming from Oklahoma State’s practice facility on Thursday, the Cowboys’ 2023 defense is learning first-year defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo’s new system fast — and that’s going to allow them to play even faster.
Mike Gundy made some strong statements about the Cowboys’ speed, something he says they’ve placed a higher priority on in recruiting of late, especially on defense.
“We’ve recruited speed when we’ve had that luxury,” Gundy said. “We didn’t want to make speed more important than being productive in high school, but if we had the comparison of two guys that were just as productive, we tried to go with the speed the last four or five years.
“And we’ve been fast on defense, and I feel like we’re gonna be fast on defense this year.”
Speed is nice. It kills. But it needs to be harnessed correctly.
A couple of Cowboys who embody Gundy’s recruiting philosophy echoed his sentiment, but they also credited Nardo, and his new 3-3-5 defense, with the opportunity to make use of that speed this fall.
Redshirt senior safety Trey Rucker knows a thing or two about speed. In high school, he was clocked running a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, though — since transferring from Wake Forest — he’s been known mostly for what comes on the other end of that speed. Namely, a monstrous hit.
Rucker is sold on Nardo’s new system and its ability to confuse opposing offenses.
“It’s very athletic because they let us be in multiple positions at one time,” Rucker said. “It allows us to be all over the field without actually looking like we are all over the field. It’s a very open defense and I think it allows all of us to move very fast and precise.”
Rucker said it took the defense about a month to pick up Nardo’s system. No small feat for a team that’s on its third DC in as many seasons.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Cam Smith was another one of those prospects who checked the “speed” box for Gundy. He played both ways in high school, putting up solid numbers as a wide receiver, and was also a track star.
Smith also credited Nardo for how fast the team has picked up the new system.
“We have a pretty good defense,” Smith said. “He just tries to keep it simple so we don’t have to think as much. We can just play hard and fast.”
Last season, the Cowboys had plenty of speed leftover from the 2021 defense that was the talk of college football and dragged OSU to a NY6 bowl win.
But in 2022, the Cowboys dropped from a No. 9 scoring defense the year prior to 89th. The only Big 12 team to score less than 25 points against OSU was Iowa State (14 in a comeback-win for the Cowboys). Three times the Pokes had 40 points or more hung on them.
It remains to be seen just how quickly the Cowboys’ defense has mastered the new system, or how quickly it will result in success on the field. But right now, in August, there’s plenty of optimism that Nardo’s defnse will make the most of that speed.