BEFORE OKLAHOMA STATE's meeting with third-ranked Missouri in Columbia last Saturday night, few people thought that the Cowboys' defense could be a difference-maker in the game. The offense had been potent enough through the first five games, but the D had yielded an average of 338.6 yards against a hardly formidable slate of opponents. And against Missouri, the Cowboys would be facing a team that had racked up 568.8 yards a game on offense and scored an average of 53.4 points in a 5--0 start. So lightly regarded was the Cowboys' defense that the Tigers and their Heisman-hopeful quarterback Chase Daniel sounded anything but concerned. "When they asked him what they had to do to prepare for us, he said, 'Not much,'" says Oklahoma State junior safety Andre Sexton, citing a quote he saw in a local newspaper. "We took that as a personal challenge."
Took it and ran with it. The Cowboys' defensive aggression provided the edge in a 28--23 win that ranks as arguably the biggest victory in the program's 107-year history. (At 6--0, Oklahoma State vaulted from 17th to eighth in the AP poll, its highest ranking in 23 years.) Coordinator Tim Beckman's game plan, which sought to confound Daniel with a variety of looks in the secondary and pressure from an active, stunting front four, was effective from the start. Missouri quickly marched 78 yards to the Cowboys' five-yard line on the game's opening possession, but then the defense stiffened. That the Tigers settled for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from inside the one—a questionable call given Missouri's dynamic offense and the deafening crowd of 68,349 urging it on—gave the Cowboys a fresh surge of confidence. "It basically showed us that they weren't going to be running anything new," says senior cornerback Ricky Price.
That concessionary field goal marked the first time a Missouri opening drive had failed to end in a touchdown this season. On the Tigers' next possession the Cowboys forced Daniel into a three-and-out, another dubious first for Missouri in 2008. Then with 2:54 left in the second quarter, Oklahoma State blocked Jeff Wolfert's 34-yard field goal attempt. That was only the second career miss in Big 12 play for the senior kicker. (The other came on a 59-yarder against Nebraska on Oct. 4.)
But by far the biggest surprise was the sight of Daniel looking less than composed. Obviously unsettled by the Cowboys' many stunts and twists, Daniel was sacked twice (he had been dropped only once in the first five games) and threw three second-half interceptions—including one to Price on a deflection off a Missouri receiver and another on an ill-advised throw that was picked off by Sexton. Daniel's most costly pass, though, came with a little more than a minute left and the Tigers driving at the Oklahoma State 37. He forced a pass that was picked off by linebacker Patrick Lavine.
When it was over, the Cowboys had held the Tigers to 454 total yards, including just 64 on the ground. And that made all the difference.