STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State's Jordan Brailford has enjoyed an outstanding season, ranking among the nation's top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss this season. For the Cowboys to have any hope of upsetting No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday, the junior defensive end needs another strong outing against elusive quarterback Kyler Murray.
Oklahoma State (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) leads the nation with 33 sacks. Brailford is tied for fourth with nine and ranks sixth with 15.5 tackles for loss per game.
Going against Murray, who has been sacked just nine times all season and sits sixth in the country with 2,689 passing yards, will be a major challenge for Brailford and OSU.
"He's been an exceptional pass rusher up to this point," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy of Brailford. "He has a combination of speed and power and he has really good flexibility. Even in the NFL, the guys that are good pass rushers, they can carry a certain speed up field, but then they can dip and have flexibility to get down under those blocks.
"He's been great. He's been active, he's been a good leader and makes plays. He draws quite a bit of attention, which he should."
Oklahoma State is coming off a 35-31 loss at Baylor last week in which the Bears erased a 31-21 Cowboy lead in the final six minutes.
"It's really little things that we have to fix," said Brailford, who was the Big 12's defensive player of the week after OSU's 44-21 win over then-No. 17 Boise State on Sept. 15 when he had two sacks and a forced fumble. "We recognize the things that we did wrong and I feel like there's no need to panic. I feel like that's the mood in the locker room, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We just notice the small mistakes that we made and that can make a big difference in a game of inches. We just have to correct them as they come."
Murray's passing prowess includes 31 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He's also been an effective runner, ranking sixth in the Big 12 with 574 rushing yards, along with seven touchdowns. He took over the job from last year's Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1, No. 6 CFP) has not missed a beat, ranking second in the nation in total offense (563.2 yards per game) and third in scoring (49.1 points).
Gundy recognized it as a major task for his defense to try to mitigate the dual threat that Murray presents.
"He's really good," Gundy said. "We all know that. The basis of defensive football is that everybody has a gap responsibility, everybody has a zone coverage or man coverage. The one player you have a hard time accounting for is the quarterback. When you are trying to defend a player that is that active, it's not always easy, which has been evident if you've watched their games this year."
Gundy acknowledged the possibility that the Cowboys might designate a specific defensive player to keep an eye on Murray at times, so he doesn't take off on runs. But that can be somewhat of a risky strategy, potentially leaving openings elsewhere.
"I'm not saying that it's not a good plan to do it, and I'm not saying people haven't tried it, I haven't seen it work very good for them," Gundy said. "If you were to spy him, it would have to be someone who is very fast because he runs pretty well. There have been attempts and have been some times that it has been successful, but if you spy him, you're giving up something somewhere else."
Oklahoma State defensive tackle Enoch Smith confirmed that the Cowboys' practices this week were specially designed to try to combat Murray's specific skill set.
"It's really intense," Smith said. "We are moving at a fast pace because we have to get ready for their quarterback, who is extremely agile. He will run all over the place, so we've got a lot of movement going on in practice. A lot of intensity so we can go up against their offensive line and do what we have to do."