STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s new defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles, cooked up Jordan Brailford’s big night a long time ago.
Did Knowles plan that Brailford would have three quarterback sacks, 3 ½ tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a permanent residence in the Boise State backfield, as he did in the Cowboys’ 44-21 demolition of No. 17-ranked Boise State on Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium?
Well, no. But at some point, between being hired by Mike Gundy from Duke in January and taking apart Boise State, Knowles got creative with Brailford.
“Hmm,” Knowles said. “That’s usually about 2 a.m. on some summer night is when that comes up, after about my third cigar. That’s about when those things come up.
“When you have guys like that, and he is one of ‘em, you can be creative. And you know what? They love it. And it’s great for recruiting. That’s our Leo position, man, Leo the lion. We’re gonna move him around and let him do all kinds of things. As much as he can handle, I’m gonna throw it at him.”
Knowles threw a lot at Brailford on this muggy afternoon, and Brailford looked like an All-American.
On one play, he lined up as a 4-3 defensive end, hand on the ground, and beat the right tackle to the quarterback with his speed. On the next play, he lined up three yards off the ball, as a 3-4 outside linebacker, standing up, and shot into the backfield with an inside move. And on the next play, he lined up as 3-4 inside linebacker, this time standing up and just shaded off the center, and blew up yet another play behind the line of scrimmage.
It was that kind of day for Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien and the Bronco offense.
“They did a good job of bringing pressure,” Rypien said. “Their D-Line is good. I thought our O-Line did a good job for the most part. There were a lot of plays that I should have gotten rid of the ball quicker.”
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin sounded more agitated by the Broncos’ 1.1 yards per carry average than he did by the seven quarterback sacks.
“What we didn’t do,” Harsin said, “is run the ball. We were giving up too much penetration. You saw where we handed the ball off and there was a guy three or four yards deep in the backfield. That can’t happen.”
While Knowles may have imagined the Brailford package over late night summer cigars, he installed it last spring. Then Sunday, he told Brailford to get ready, and the Cowboys repped it all week.
Brailford was chomping at the bit.
“I’ve definitely had a good time ever since last Sunday when they said we’re about to put in a little bit of three-down (lineman) package,” he said. “I was really just hyped up about it all week, excited about the opportunity to show it off on Saturday.”
So what’s so fun about it, besides the obvious disruption to an unwitting offense?
“Just having the freedom to move around,” he said. “The o-linemen and … running backs get to key in on you once you do the same move from d-end, but moving from left to right, blitzing all the gaps, it just gives me all the freedom to work moves and do some thing that people don’t expect.”
At least once, Brailford’s relocation blew things up and he didn’t even do anything.
“I remember it was definitely one time out there, I think they got delay of game,” he said. “Came out in a three-down and the quarterback was trying to check and lost track of the time. I definitely think that affected them today.”
So why Brailford? What was it that Knowles saw in a 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior who made 57 tackles and 1 ½ quarterback sacks last season?
“I think it’s perfect for him,” Knowles said. “I think he’s very versatile. He’s smart. I mean, there were some plays he was in the backfield so fast he missed the tackle in the backfield. He could have had a couple more TFLs. He can think like me. He can think out of the box. I can tell him to go one place one time, another another time, and he picks it up real quick.
“You’ve got a guy who’s big, strong, athletic and can run. I mean, he looks like a grown man and yet he plays with the agility of a linebacker or strong safety. So I knew right away we were gonna be able to do a lot of things with him.”
“Got me moving around the field, which I enjoy a lot,” Brailford said. “Just a little taste of things to come.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.