"It was only his second game and he is going through some growing pains," Gundy said. "Even though he is a little more mature player, it is still new to him. Prior to coming in against Missouri, he had not played when it mattered. He will have to play well and smart for us to be in a position to win the (Texas) game."
Sophomore Donovan Woods started all 12 games last season, leading the Cowboys to a No. 19 ranking before the bottom fell out during that historic 56-35 Longhorn comeback last November. The rub on Woods is that he was inconsistent and one-dimensional (i.e., he couldn't throw) and so Gundy moved him to safety just before the Sept. 17 Arkansas State game. Heralded 2004 recruit Bobby Reid took over for the less-than-impressive 20-10 win but has battled injuries throughout his fledgling career.
Considered the jewel of Les Miles' final recruiting class at OSU, Reid missed the 2004 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He suffered a high-ankle sprain against Missouri on October 8, a 38-31 Cowboy loss.
"Bobby Reid is still day-to-day with a high ankle sprain," Gundy said, "and Al Pena started just his second game last week. If (Reid) doesn't practice full speed this week, it's hard for us to imagine him playing with much success on Saturday."
It's probably hard for Gundy to imagine much success the remainder of the season, with games remaining against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Baylor. To some extent, he is already looking forward to starting afresh next season.
"Our players have been through some adversity, and it pushes us to the limit and lets us find out what we're made of," he said. "The attitude of our football team has been good, and we are working harder to get better. Donovan Woods is a team player and our only healthy safety at this point. He is a true team player. His motor runs at a high speed, and we can't wait to get him through a complete spring training in 2006 on defense."
Woods made his first career start at FS against Iowa State while Pena eyes his third career start against Texas. A Georgia Tech transfer, the sophomore is 41-of-79 for 461 yards in three games this season. But he has thrown nine INTs against just two TDs.
"Pena is all we got left right now," said Gundy. "He is getting better. He is forcing the ball too much and turning it over, but it was only his second game to play in. He is our guy until we get Bobby back."
Otherwise, there is no doubt in Gundy's mind that the nation's top team is playing in Stillwater this Saturday.
"They (Longhorns) are the No. 1 team in the country in my mind," Gundy said. "I have voted them No. 1 the last four weeks and they have continued to support my vote. They are one of the better teams I have seen in college football in a long time. You can talk a long time about what they have and what they can do. I think they are very well coached. Their quarterback is playing better now than he ever has. It will be a great challenge for us."
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on a TBS national broadcast.
(Todd Greenbaum contributed to this report.)