By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER, Okla. - Fans of the Big 12 Conference, understand and admit this basic fact: You have been spoiled.
Here’s who is not walking through the door: Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Todd Reesing, Colt McCoy, Branden Weeden, Graham Harrell, Collin Klein … that’s just a partial list of quarterbacks who have made Big 12 offenses productive and explosive over the last decade.
But trends end and the recycling started this season. Injury, uncertainty and inconsistency at quarterback has been a league-wide headache.
No. 21 Oklahoma State and TCU demonstrated the value of quarterback play Saturday. The Cowboys were picked to win the Big 12 and the Horned Frogs were predicted to finish third. After flailing away for 60 minutes, using four quarterbacks, trading four turnovers each and turning the red zone into the dead zone, Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) celebrated homecoming 24-10.
“Our thought process is the same on offense as it’s always been,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “We’ve just got different personnel. That’s the best way I can explain it.
“We’re winning football games differently than we have the past five, six years.”
Sophomore J.W. Walsh started but was replaced after throwing his second interception. Senior Clint Chelf, who started the season opener but lasted just two series, threw a pick on his first attempt but helped lead the Cowboys to its last two touchdowns.
“We felt like we needed a spark so we played Clint,” Gundy said. “We’ll evaluate and decide which way we want to go next week.”
TCU (3-4, 1-3) has played in the state of Oklahoma twice this season. In the two first halves against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Horned Frogs were shut out with 78 yards of total offense, three first downs and 12 punts.
After starting quarterback Trevone Boykin’s second interception of the first half, TCU coach Gary Patterson switched to redshirt freshman Tyler Matthews. The Frogs fumbled it away on his first play. Boykin returned in the second half. He finished 17-of-35 for 188 yards with three interceptions.
Asked why Matthews didn’t start the second half after closing out the first, TCU coach Gary Patterson had a simple answer: “Because Boykin did.” Under Patterson, the Frogs are now 35-2 when forcing at least three turnovers.
"The defense played lights out, but the offense and special teams didn't help out," TCU offensive lineman Eric Taucsh said. "As an offense, we have to start finding a rhythm and moving the ball like we do in the second half."
Aesthetically Josh Stewart had the play of the day. He gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead with a school-record 95-yard punt return where he weaved like an inebriated driver, following blocks and avoiding potential tacklers.
A 95-yard return means that he fielded the booming, 54-yard punt inside his own 10 – usually a no no.
“Yeah, if I had been tackled back there I would probably hear about it in the film room,” said Stewart, who had eight receptions in the first half. “I saw a lot of space between me and the gunner and I thought I could make some yards. I got some great blocks and was able to make some people miss.”
Stewart finished with 265 total yards - 10 receptions for 141 yards and had two punt returns for 124 yards. His final catch – a leaping grab of a Chelf pass – set up Rennie Childs’ 7-yard touchdown run that made it 24-10 with 6:04 remaining to remove any remaining drama.
In addition – and perhaps abetting – the quarterback woes, Oklahoma State’s usually salty running game has been bland. The Cowboys gained 95 yards on 35 carries. Childs, a redshirt freshman, finished with 45 yards on nine carries. Might he be a solution?
“Rennie was close to playing the last couple of weeks,” Gundy said. “He’s been productive and showing maturity. We felt like it was time today.”
Before Childs’ TD, Oklahoma State had won only four Big 12 games scoring 24 or fewer points. The Cowboys fizzled on four excellent scoring chances in the first half. A 17-0 halftime lead felt more like a deficit.
“You know when you come off the field in the tunnel and you can go left to the locker room or turn right?” Gundy said. “I felt like taking a right turn.”
Instead of producing a minimum of 12 or a maximum of 28 points, four possessions inside the TCU 20 yielded zero points. Kicker Ben Grogan missed field goals of 31 and 32 yards.
“We have to minimize mistakes if we’re gonna win games,” Gundy said. “Usually if you win two of the three phases – offense, defense and special teams – you’ll win the game. Our defense was outstanding. . TCU’s return game is really good but we won the return game. We managed to change the field with our return game.”
Gundy was asked if Oklahoma State could win the Big 12 with the offense seen by a Boone Pickens Stadium record crowd of 59, 638.
“I’m just trying to win the next game,” Gundy said. “It’s week to week in this league in terms of challenges.”
Especially for the quarterbacks.