Gundy aims to improve Cowboys' fourth-quarter toughness

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Mike Gundy saw some improvement in his defense last season, but remained fixated on one element of his team's defensive collapse in games they ended up losing.

The Cowboys struggled all season with tackling in key situations. Gundy has made improving those skills one of his primary aims this spring.

Oklahoma State's tackling difficulties were never more apparent than in the Cowboys' Holiday Bowl loss to Oregon. The Ducks blew the game open by producing 183 yards on 21 snaps in the fourth quarter, including five runs of at least 10 yards and two passes of at least 20 yards en route to a 42-31 victory.

"I've referred to the bowl game from a toughness standpoint," Gundy said. "We've always prided ourselves here at Oklahoma State on being tough. But we weren't tough in that ball game."

The Cowboys were pounded at the line of scrimmage, wearing down as the game continued by Oregon's tough inside running.

"In that fourth quarter we weren't tough," Gundy said. "We had a couple of injuries that set us back. And Oregon had some issues, too. But it came down to toughness and we weren't the toughest team in the fourth quarter. And we've used that for motivation during the winter."

Oklahoma State safety Andre Sexton still has memories of the way the Ducks were able to easily carve up his unit down the stretch, particularly the play of burly quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and bruising tailbacks Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount.

"We have to go back out, do some hitting and develop our toughness," Sexton said. "They wore us down in that game. Their quarterback was a tough guy who really got after us. It's motivation for us to get better on the little stuff and just become more physical on defense."

Those struggles showed throughout the season in Oklahoma State's losses. The Cowboys were blistered for 189 total yards and 14 points by Texas Tech.

But their most humiliating collapse came with their late struggles against Oklahoma, which lit them up for 24 fourth-quarter points and 166 yards in the fourth quarter of a 61-41 loss. The Sooners scored on their final eight possessions in that game after OSU had stopped them on three of the first four Oklahoma possessions.

"We've got to do a better job of finishing games," OSU defensive tackle Swanson Miller said. "We haven't always done that, particularly last season. But we need to go out and do better in the things we fell short on and be that much better in the future."