OSU secondary needs a healthy Malcolm Rodriguez
STILLWATER — Malcolm Rodriguez only needs one hand to count the number of games in which he's been a starting safety for Oklahoma State.
Yet coach Mike Gundy views the true sophomore from Wagoner as a veteran in the Cowboy secondary.
With four starts under his belt before a bruised hip limited his availability the last two weeks, Rodriguez brings veteran qualities and a calming influence.
His mental approach, his maturity, his reliability.
“He's a veteran guy. He's seen it a lot and he's been around,” Gundy said. “It takes a number of plays off of freshmen.”
As the Cowboys head into an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday at Kansas State in what has the sense of a must-win game for an OSU team trying to keep its season on the tracks, Rodriguez could be a vital piece.
“We're a young group on the back end,” said senior Kenneth Edison-McGruder, the only upperclassman in the regular rotation at safety. “Malcolm just flies to the ball, and it helps having somebody who's always around the ball.”
That, along with his reliable tackling ability when he gets to the ball, is where Rodriguez's value skyrockets. Rodriguez played only a few snaps at Kansas two weeks ago, then entered for the second half against Iowa State.
Still, he's fourth on the team in tackles with 29, and had a couple of big ones as the Cowboys were trying to get some traction against Iowa State.
“Malcolm's playing with a lot of pain, so he's not at a level where he can consistently get quality reps there,” Gundy said. “He had a pretty significant injury — a very painful part to play in a game. He ran better (on Sunday).”
When Rodriguez is in, OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles can be more sparing in his use of reserves Kolby Peel and Jarrick Bernard, putting less pressure on the true freshmen.
Gundy has always spoken highly of Rodriguez's background as a wrestler helping with his understanding of leverage in tackling.
And Rodriguez was a successful quarterback at Wagoner, where he led the team to three state championships, so he can get in the head of an opponent when Rodriguez is reading where a pass might go.
Against Big 12 offenses that use a lot of movement, both before and at the point of the snap, communication between OSU's three safeties is critical. With the recent personnel changes, that communication has been lacking at times.
“Sometimes during the game, with all the motion and everything, we have trouble communicating,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like once we get the communication down, we'll be alright.”
Since the Iowa State loss, both Gundy and Knowles have acknowledged that the defensive playbook might need to be reduced until the execution improves.
“I'm not gonna point fingers at any position, any player. All the fingers come to me,” Knowles said. “I gotta figure out a way to help them to be better, and put them in better positions.”