How OSU unleashed Collin Oliver and sparked a defensive turnaround

How OSU unleashed Collin Oliver and sparked a defensive turnaround

Oklahoma State’s defense struggled mightily in the first half against Kansas. So much so that star defensive back Kendal Daniels felt the need to apologize to his teammates.

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

| Oct 14, 2023, 9:56pm CDT

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

Oct 14, 2023, 9:56pm CDT

STILLWATER — At halftime, Kendal Daniels realized he was sick of saying “my bad.”

He ended up apologizing in style.

Before Oklahoma State’s defense buckled down to force five consecutive fruitless Kansas drives to secure a 39-32 win on Saturday afternoon, the Cowboys had little to celebrate and much to apologize for.

KU quarterback Jason Bean had 274 passing yards at halftime and four touchdowns. Jayhawk tight end Mason Fairchild had been left wide open multiple times and had gashed the Cowboys defense down the middle for touchdown receptions of 30 and 44 yards.

It wasn’t all on Daniels, OSU’s rover safety. Cowboys defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo would tell you that, but OSU gave up two TDs due to defensive confusion and all five KU scores were passes of at least 30 yards.

“I just had to tell everybody that that was on me, a couple of those plays they hit big on,” Daniels said. “As a leader I can’t go out there and let my team down. I felt like I had to get them back.”

The Cowboys made amends by adjusting their plan at half and unleashing Collin Oliver.

Defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo said once he realized KU wasn’t emphasizing the option play with Bean, a lightning quick quarterback held to eight rushes for two yards on Saturday, Nardo could send Oliver on blitzes. After a quiet first half. Oliver finished with seven tackles, two-and-a-half sacks and two pass break-ups, including the key swat on a fourth-and-one on the KU 34-yard line with 1:57 left to end a potential game-winning drive.

Oliver’s two-and-a-half sacks were a career high. He consistently applied pressure for the OSU defensive line that sacked Bean four times. He was happy to blitz more, just to erase the taste of the first half.

“When somebody does bad, picking them up, getting them back to that medium, there’s always that going on, no matter if it’s Kendal, me, (Xavier Benson) or Nick (Martin),” Oliver said.

After 321 yards in the first half, KU’s offense was held to 179 in the second. After a Herculean first half, Jason Bean was held to 10-for-17 with just one touchdown. Most importantly, after 25 first-half points, KU mustered seven after the break.

Daniels’ interception, his first this season, was the start of the turnaround.

When Kansas, already up 32-27, drove deep into OSU territory with 1:24 left in the third quarter, Daniels read a corner route, jumped in front of receiver Trevor Wilson, and leapt to snatch Bean’s pass with two hands. Daniels landed in OSU’s endzone, dug his cleats into the white goal line and bolting the other way before getting shoved into OSU’s sideline. A swarm of teammates yanked him skyward, pounding his helmet in a fearsome congratulations. That was his favorite form of apology.

“It was man coverage,” Daniels said. “(Bean) threw it. Trusted his guy. His guy had made plays all day, and I respect him for it. It was a 50/50 ball and I had to come down with it.” 

After getting torched in the first half, Kansas’ final five possessions ended with Daniels’ pick, a Dylan Smith interception at the KU 28-yard line on a pass that DeSean Brown tipped at the line, two fourth-down stops and the game clock expiring.

“Bryan (Nardo) did a really good job in the middle of the third quarter,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We made an adjustment in the way we were playing their empty set. A couple things that we needed to do to activate No. 30 (Collin Oliver) as a pass rusher.”

The Cowboys trotted out for the second half with seconds left on the 20-minute timer, squeezing every second out of the break. 

Linebacker Xavier Benson described a busy scene.

Offense on one side of the locker room, and the defense huddled around Nardo and a whiteboard. Oliver said he can’t remember if the mild-mannered defensive coordinator yelled or not, but Nardo’s message was clear.

“I think the first message to our players was not to panic…Everything that was happening to us in the first half that was negative was self-inflicted,” Nardo said. “It wasn’t anything that we needed to panic about.”

The message got through. And OSU got to Bean, who entered the game with zero interceptions in 39 attempts..

“Everyone just had to calm down, and figure out that we were beating ourselves,” Daniels said.

OSU has now held 32 of its past 36 Big 12 opponents under their season scoring average entering the game.

“Bryan (Nardo) has had answers throughout the season,” Gundy said. “I told the coaches this. I just want coaches to have answers during the game. I know the other team might try to counter you, which they should. But if there’s an issue, I need to get it fixed, and you need to have answers for it.”

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Sam Hutchens covers Oklahoma State sport for Sellout Crowd. He interned for The Stillwater News Press in 2021 and The Guthrie News Leader in 2022, where he won a first-place OPA award for in-depth reporting. He has also covered sports in southwest Oklahoma for The Lawton Constitution. He strives to tell you the OSU sports stories that you want to tell your friends about. You can email him at [email protected] and connect on Twitter (X) @Sam_Hutchens_

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