December 29, 2009

Forever Young: '09 Defense much improved

IRVING, Texas - Amazing offense, abysmal defense.

That's basically been the tune for years now in Orange Country. During the Mike Gundy era, the offense has flown high and the defense has been as holy as communion.

Not anymore.

After this season's massive turnaround, you can't call the Cowboys' defense a joke anymore. In fact, at times this year, the defense led the day and was a significant contributor to victory on Saturdays.

Now, the unit commands respect and has confidence in itself. The big change? While you'd never get him to admit it or accept credit for it, the addition of Bill Young as defensive coordinator has produced immediate results for OSU.

Let him know that, however, and he'd be the first to tell you that wasn't the case.

"I'll tell you what," the veteran coach says in a slow drawl, "I think that I've been given a lot more credit than I deserve, without question."

Classic Young, right there. Coming back to his alma mater after recent stints at Kansas and Miami, the 1968 OSU graduate was hired on by Gundy to shore up a unit that consistently ranked in the 80s and 90s the previous few seasons. But this year? A jump all the way to 33rd in total defense (329.9 yards per game) and to 36th in scoring defense (21.7 points per game). And that jump couldn't have come at a better time, as the offense largely sputtered this year, finishing at No. 62 nationally in total offense (376.5 ypg).

But again, Young deflects his role in the improvement. Instead, he's quick to credit his assistants and players.

"I think that it all started with the defensive staff," he said. "The reason I say that is that these guys have been here building this program all along and now all of a sudden we're kind of reaping the benefits of all that hard work from past years. We've got some veteran players that have played a lot in the past and have really come on and played well. Then you've got some other guys who haven't played much in the past that have really stepped it up a level."

But ask others within the OSU program? Young gets tons of praise.

"He came in and he kind of took a different approach than recent defensive coordinators we've had," Patrick Lavine said. "He's more laid back, more 'Let's get the job done' and if we have a problem how can we get the job done. More of a player's coach. It just worked out since he's come in. He put a tweak here and tweak there and it's working out for us."

"I love the guy," said defensive tackle Derek Burton. "Him just coming in and the first week I was sold that he was the best coach ever. He's just that kind of guy with that kind of personality. He can win over just about anybody. I feel like the players have reacted well to his relaxed way and he's always joking. He's serious when he has to be, and he's a great guy on and off the field. Just being here has made our team better."

His down-home, folksy nature is endearing. A conversation with him is a bit like heading over to your uncle's or grandfather's house to sit on the porch, sip some lemonade and listen to stories. And it's that attitude that has really had an impact on the players in the program.

"He's come in and brought a lot of heart and has made every player want to play for him," Jermiah Price said. "He's changed a lot. All the players all actually want to play for him just because of the way he treats you. He doesn't yell at you if you mess up. He actually fixes the problem and comes to talk to you and you go from there."

So his approach to coaching has been a huge hit with the players. Amongst the coaching staff, he's praised for his experience and lessons he can help the team learn.

"I think he's a great teacher," Gundy said. "He's been able to get the players to play at a level higher than they were accustomed to. I think coaching is about taking young men and taking them somewhere that they can't take themselves. He does a good job of that. He takes guys and says this will be your role and this is what we need you to do in this game, this is what we need you to do during the season. We need to fit you into the scheme. I've been impressed with that and I know he's really helped me in the staff room.

"Obviously he's got a lot of years of experience, been around a lot of teams and won a lot of games. He's got knowledge and expertise in areas that really helps me as a head coach. I don't think there is any question that he was a great addition to our staff."

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