An Oklahoma State cornerback sees quarterback Collin Klein drop four steps back and motion his arm forward. He jumps the route, ready for the ball to arrive to him.
Except Klein’s motion was a pump fake, not a throw. The cornerback turns around to catch up with the wide receiver, but it’s too late. Tyler Lockett is already five yards behind him. Lockett catches the ball and gains 50 yards before getting shoved out of bounds.
The cornerback wasn’t a true freshman or an inexperienced backup with little expectations to play well. It was Justin Gilbert, who has fallen from Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP last winter to scapegoat of the defense this fall.
The 2012 Gilbert is a shell of the 2011 player who intercepted Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. Instead of shutting down wide receivers, Gilbert is having Big 12 quarterbacks target him early and often.
“I think I can give a little bit more to the team,” Gilbert said. “I’m not playing to my full potential.”
The biggest culprit of Gilbert’s regression appears to be the change in circumstances entering this season. Last summer he was in a position battle with Devin Hedgepeth for the second starting cornerback spot and did not have a full advantage until Hedgepeth tore his Achilles tendon against Texas A&M.
In practice, Gilbert would also match-up against Justin Blackmon, the two-time winner of Biletnikoff Award. He would rise to the challenge of defending the nation’s best wide receiver, something the coaching staff and Blackmon discussed often throughout the 2011 season.
Fast forward to 2012. Blackmon is in the NFL, Hedgepeth is out for the year with another Achilles injury and Gilbert finds himself comfortably in the starting lineup.
“Last year with me and Devin battling, it motivated me to come in and watch more film and be more of a participant,” Gilbert said. “I really haven’t had that push (this year), but I talked to coach (Jason) Jones and (Mike) Gundy and told them I was going to step it up a notch.”
To find last season’s form, Gilbert has put in extra hours studying more tape. His goal is to slow the game down, bring it back to the speed of play he is familiar with and make opposing offenses predictable.
“One of the things I talked to with Coach Jones about over and over again is keeping my eyes in the right place,” Gilbert said. “He is telling me to control my eyes. The more film I watch, the better off I’ll be.”
Gilbert has shown at times flashes of last year’s brilliance, but he’s lacking the signature moment, the interception, the fourth down pass breakup, that made him a fan favorite. With upcoming games against Tavon Austin and Kenny Stills, two of the best wide receivers in the Big 12, the opportunity will be there.
But until the moment occurs, there will be continuing concerns as memories of the big plays Gilbert has allowed linger.
“I think he did struggle, particularly against Texas, but he is working extremely hard,” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “He has a lot of talent. For us to be the defense we want to be he needs to be a heck of a player for us.
“He needs to play like he did against Texas A&M and people like that last year.”