Star power has shifted to Oklahoma State's defense

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah leads an Oklahoma State defense that's tops in the Big 12 in a multitude of categories. Brody Schmidt/AP

The landscape has changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

It wasn’t that long ago we looked at the Big 12 leaders in offensive categories and saw Oklahoma State represented to the fullest. Brandon Weeden, Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon made the top of the conference leaders list their home in recent years.

Now, it is the Cowboys defense that has put itself atop the Big 12 leaders list.

Big 12 tackles per game leader? Safety Jordan Sterns (9.3). Big 12 sacks per game leader? Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (1.25). Big 12 tackles for loss per game leader? Ogbah (1.83).

The star power has moved from the offense to the defensive side of the ball. And its been a group effort for a Cowboys defense that ranks second in the Big 12 in points per drive allowed (1.26), yards per play allowed (4.54), second in passing yards per attempt allowed (6.12), third down conversion rate (31.5) and 3-and-out percentage (29.4).

Sterns and Ogbah find themselves among Big 12 statistical leaders, but other playmakers such as defensive end Jimmy Bean, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, linebacker Jordan Burton, safety Tre Flowers and other have been just important.

“It's a team sport. It's a team effort,” Ogbah said. “If I get a sack, it's because Jimmy (Bean) is causing destruction on the other side that lets me get to that quarterback."

The 2015 version of the Cowboys' defense is the deepest and most athletic unit of the Mike Gundy era. And, if Oklahoma State continues to force itself into the Big 12 title race, it will be the defense that the title bid is built upon.

“You know I'm not big on throwing out praise because I see the negatives, but we function,” Spencer said. “We've had issues, but they've made a lot of big plays. We have contributors all over the place. Good defenses have a lot of people contribute. There are too many moving parts. We have to have all 11 as contributors. We can't have too many weak chains.”

Weak chains are hard to find on this unit. Ogbah is the headline act, but the improvement of the rest of the defense has played a real role in his dominance this season. On a less talented defense, teams could be able to focus on stopping Ogbah, who leads the Big 12 with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. With the Cowboys, it’s not that easy.

"He's an important part,” Spencer said of Ogbah. “The front seven as a whole has done a good job of pressuring the quarterback. Sometimes it's him alone, sometimes it's other guys feeding the quarterback to him and sometimes it's him feeding the quarterback to someone else. It all works together.”