Last week we looked at three takeaways from OSU’s offense post-spring practice. Now let’s turn our attention to a Cowboys’ defense that is undergoing an even bigger transition.
1. Nardo’s New Look
For the third-straight year, OSU will enter fall with a new DC. Mike Gundy plucked Bryan Nardo from D-II school Gannon University but not without some fanfare from industry insiders. The 37-year-old brings a reputation as a keen and innovative football mind and a track record for success in the 3-3-5 system that’s gained popularity around the Big 12 and elsewhere.
This spring we heard plenty of nice things from his new boss and his players, but before the spring, Nardo himself spoke to OSU Max about what fans can expect from his defense. His response? “Runners and hitters.”
In his one year at Gannon, Nardo dropped the Knights’ defense from allowing 29 points to 21.9 points per game and lowered their per-game yards allowed from 396 to 287.4 while adding three wins from the year before. It may not be reasonable to expect that type of turnaround in Year 1 in Stillwater, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
2. Taking Advantage of Star Talent
With that switch to the new system, a couple of rising OSU stars will get the chance to showcase their skills in a new way. Both Collin Oliver and Kendal Daniels will be crucial cogs in Nardo’s new defense.
Oliver made the switch from defensive end to linebacker, though Gundy has stated that he wants to keep the four-man front as an option. Regardless, Oliver is used to moving around the front line and you can bet he’ll be able to pin his ears back and attack.
Daniels is coming off a breakout season in which he followed up Oliver’s Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honor with one of his own. Now he’ll look to take the next step in a crucial role as the “rover” safety in the 3-3-5 scheme. Nardo admitted that he didn’t have that type of athlete at Gannon and Daniels is a perfect example of a “runner and hitter.” Both should be fun to watch this fall.
3. New Leaders at Linebacker
For the second straight year, OSU lost its top tackling and most seasoned linebacker. Mason Cobb is off to the West Coast by way of the portal, but OSU coaches did yeoman’s work of replacing him and they’ll lean on a former transfer to help fill the void.
Xavier Benson, who started his career at Texas Tech, enters his senior season as OSU’s top returning tackler and will be partnering up with Tulsa transfer Justin Wright, the Golden Hurricane’s top tackler the last two years. Both will be leaned on for leadership roles and Benson displayed some of his ability early this spring.
“We all know how it is when you’re new somewhere and you gotta build all the trust and get through all the stuff,” Benson said. “You gotta wait. It’s rough. That’s what I was telling Justin. I was like, ‘Hey, I want you to know I’m all in with you. I want you to be comfortable as much as you can be.’”