Burned two weeks ago, Cameron Epps leads OSU’s defensive revival

Burned two weeks ago, Cameron Epps leads OSU’s defensive revival

Epps snatched the first two interceptions of his career in OSU’s 29-21 win against Kansas State on Friday night, returning one 35 yards for a touchdown.

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

| Oct 7, 2023, 12:45am CDT

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

Oct 7, 2023, 12:45am CDT

STILLWATER — Cameron Epps played poorly two weeks ago against Iowa State. His actions after the game tell you that.

The Sunday after Oklahoma State’s secondary gave up 348 yards and three passing touchdowns to freshman quarterback Rocco Becht, Epps was the first one in the facility. And he wasn’t recovering, eating or working out — he was watching film.

The attention to detail over OSU’s bye week paid off for Epps, a redshirt freshman. Epps snatched the first two interceptions of his career in OSU’s 29-21 win against Kansas State on Friday night, returning one 35 yards for a touchdown. Epps is the second OSU freshman to intercept two passes in a game, joining Shaun Lewis, who did it against Oklahoma in 2010.

The Cowboy defense limited a veteran quarterback in Will Howard to a season-low 152 passing yards. It was a defensive performance, and a win, much needed for OSU (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12), facing the possibility of dropping below .500 at any point for the first time since 2014.

With 40 seconds left in the first half, Epps jumped an out-route intended for receiver Phillip Brooks. Brooks had turned the route upfield but K-State quarterback Will Howard had already thrown toward the boundary.

“I couldn’t believe he threw it, honestly,” Epps said.

The interception and ensuing touchdown sent a pulse through Boone Pickens Stadium. It gave the Cowboys a 20-7 lead, control they wouldn’t relinquish.

The weight of the play made its way up to the OSU coaches’ booth. Cowboy defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo used the word “enthusiastic” to describe the way safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt reacted to the play.

“Coach Hammer was most enthusiastic, because he works with (Epps) every day,” Nardo said. “And to see a kid who had a struggle show up and do that, I think that really gets you as a position coach.”

Hammerschmidt, Nardo and Epps all knew the Wildcats would be testing his coverage. Nardo explained any offensive coordinator would see vulnerability in a freshman whose only start went poorly.

Epps was thrust into a starting role for the first time in his career after sophomore safety Lyrik Rawls injured his left leg in practice before the ISU game. 

Epps admitted he played through nerves. It was tough on him. 

Epps was on the wrong end of a route that left him with on all fours and ISU receiver Daniel Jackson wide open in the end zone, and Cyclone receivers ran wild in the OSU secondary the whole game. 

The coverage busts so common in losses to Iowa State and South Alabama were absent on Friday. The Cowboy defense gave up four passing plays of more than 15 yards. 

OSU coach Mike Gundy’s said his biggest gripe with his defense was a 70-yard rush from Howard, where the purple-shirted Wildcats outflanked and outnumbered the all black OSU jerseys on the right sideline.

“Other than that, we really played solid on defense,” Gundy said. “So we didn’t we didn’t make a lot of mistakes. We didn’t give up the big throw. The last four games, we’re giving up the throws that are killing us for touchdowns, and we didn’t give that up tonight.”

Rawls getting hurt, the catalyst for Epps career, remains a challenge. Rawls got surgery on his left leg this week.

Gundy said he is excited for Epps’ future, acknowledging Epps’ athletic tools, ranginess and 6-foot-3 frame. 

“Damn I’m so proud of him and all the preparation he’s put in these past two weeks,” said OSU linebacker Nick Martin, who had an interception himself and a team-high 17 tackles Friday. “He had a tough game last week, it was his first game, nerves, jitters, slipping and falling. I was really just telling him, ‘Bro, if you lock in you can be as great as you want to be, and this is just a little teaser of what he’s got to come.’”

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Ben Hutchens and his twin brother Sam cover Oklahoma State for the Sellout Crowd. After a decade of living in the state, Ben finally feels justified in calling himself an Oklahoman. You can reach him at [email protected] and continue the dialogue @Ben_ Hutchens_ on social media.

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