No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 21 Iowa State: Young cornerbacks rose to the occasion with game hanging in the balance
AMES, Iowa — Oklahoma State cornerbacks Rodarius Willliams and A.J. Green grew up a little on Saturday.
With the Cowboys holding as firmly as it could to a 49-42 lead in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter against Iowa State, head coach Mike Gundy reminded both defensive backs that they would ultimately be the deciding factors.
It was a challenge the young cornerbacks also realized, having to battle all day with Iowa State wide receivers Allen Lazard and Marchie Murdock.
The lanky wide receivers — Lazard is 6-foot-5 and Murdock is 6-1 — combined for two touchdowns and 192 yards. And it was certain — with 2:25 remaining in regulation — that Williams (6-0) and Green (6-1) would be targeted once more.
“We told (Green) and (Williams) that they were going after them ... that they were going to post-up their big guys and and throw at you,” Gundy said.
Sure enough, Iowa State backup quarterback Zeb Noland threw to the side of the field occupied by either Green or Williams on five of his first six pass attempts of the drive, which netted 66 yards for the Cyclones.
After Iowa State running back David Montgomery put the Cyclones on the OSU 4-yard line following an 18-yard catch on fourth-and-13, Gundy’s prognostication was about to become reality.
On first-and-goal, Noland lofted a pass in the direction of Lazard. Williams, who was providing coverage, wrestled for position with the 223-pound receiver before knocking the ball out of the air.
Williams, excited, then turned to the crowd standing in the corner of the end zone and shouted, “Try it again.”
“On the back end, you have to have confidence,” Williams said. “That’s what my teammates have been telling me. I was anticipating them trying it again. I was just telling them to come on.”
Noland tried the same play again but this time to the other side of the field where Green was manning Murdock. The corner fade route was intercepted by Green after tussling possession away from Murdock.
Green, who gathered his team-leading fourth interception of the season, also had a premonition that if another pass was called, it was coming his way.
“I knew Rodarius had made a few stops before that play,” Green said. “I knew they could try him again, but I knew it was coming to (my) side. I buckled down and waited for the receiver’s eyes to get big, turned around and intercepted it.”
Both first-year starters, Williams, a redshirt freshman, and Green, a sophomore, maintained the successes they experienced Saturday would likely not have happened earlier in the season.
They weren’t mature enough yet. They hadn’t faced the challenges of defending Power Five wide receivers on a consistent basis, especially the relentless wave of them found in the Big 12.
With each practice, each film session and after each game, the pair grew more reliable to the pleasure of defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.
“They know they’re going to get tested. They know there are good receivers and good quarterbacks and you’re not going to make every play,” said Spencer. “I wanted to bother them, but not to the point where they lose confidence.”