OSU (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) started the season with freshman signal caller Wes Lunt, only to suffer a knee injury and be replaced by fellow frosh J.W. Walsh in game three. Lunt returned from injury after six weeks and replaced Walsh after he went down for the season with a knee injury Oct. 20 against Iowa State. Lunt then suffered what appeared to be a concussion last Saturday in a 44-30 loss at No. 2 Kansas State. That forced junior Clint Chelf into the game after Lunt had thrown for 184 yards and a score. Chelf completed 16 of 27 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
The third-teamer actually had the Cowboys within two scores late in the game, but K-State's smashmouth style and solid defensive fundamentals eventually wore down OSU to end its three-game winning streak and topple Gundy's team for the first time since 2006. Lunt and Chelf are expected to take snaps in practice this week, and the starter will be a game-time decision.
"We have been very fortunate," said Gundy, speaking of results despite the injuries. "Going into the season, we said we were going to have to start a freshman. He goes out. You play another freshman, and he goes out. And then you play a guy who's a junior but has never played, for us to move the ball and manage to score some points and have some success, I am pleased in that area. The corrections we have to make are we have to quit turning the ball over, not throw it to the other team. Wes Lunt has thrown six interceptions. Three have been returned for touchdowns. Those are the areas we have to get better at. If they play good and don't turn it over, our team is better off than if they play great and turn it over.
"Turnovers, guys fumbling the ball, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. I think some guys are more cognizant of not fumbling the ball. But interceptions, those are mistakes that are made. We have to evaluate whether the interception was made by the quarterback, or the defense making a good play. We try to weight those options and correct those mistakes and move forward to next week. It's coachable. We have to do a better job of coaching our guys through that.
Oklahoma State led the nation in total offense for the first month-plus of the season, and currently ranks third in passing yards (355.9) and 20th in rushing (220), and has amassed the eight-most average points per game at 42.5. Its defense, a bit of a surprise, is allowing 25.8 points per game, good for 56th. Gundy said is staff would certainly evaluate the "formula" being used to slow West Virginia, namely dropping seven to eight defenders, limiting deeper passes and flooding intermediate routes while pressuring with four, or three with a single linebacker in the box.
"Like any other opponent, we have to evaluate their talent, strengths and weaknesses against what our talent and strengths are and formulate a game-plan that fits our system," said Gundy, whose 2010 offensive coordinator was WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "We don't have the luxury at times of doing or running other plays other teams might have run. I don't see much difference scheme-wise (from WVU), in my opinion. From the scheme standpoint it has been pretty similar throughout the season.
"(But) I don't think there is any question teams borrow, borrow and don't give back. I think coaches who formulate plans on both sides are always looking to see what success was had against teams that you're playing. If it fits your style of play, coaches take it and run with it."
Gundy's Oklahoma State team still runs the Air Raid installed by Holgorsen when he came to Stillwater from Houston for his single season. In 2010, the Cowboys offensive numbers jumped considerably, and the next season OSU went 11-1, a singler loss at Iowa State keeping them from the national title game. Gundy noted the reason he hired Holgorsen, among others, was that he had a quarterback in Brandon Weedon that fit the Air Raid model better than OSU's then-current spread-run attack.
"We were a typical spread offense, run-pass," Gundy said. "We changed our style of quarterback, and we brought in someone who could best use that with Brandon Weedon, which was pocket passing. I was learning the system and how we implement it and coach it and the high reps and the fewer number of plays and more reps in practice. That was the adjustment to me with the new offense."
Gundy also praised running back Joseph Randle, who has rushed for 943 yards and nine touchdowns with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. The junior has solidified the spot recently personified by Kendall Hunter, who was an All-American as a sophomore, and again as a senior, the latter season under Holgorsen. Randall, at 6-1, 200 pounds, is the quintessential Oklahoma State back, having a mix of power, shiftiness, blocking toughness and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
It has led, perhaps unfairly, to comparisons with former Cowboy great Thurman Thomas, who led then-No. 11 OSU to a 35-33 win over unranked West Virginia in the 1987 Sun Bowl on Christmas Day. Thomas ran for 157 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries, and his total TDs, rushes and points (24) are still Sun Bowl records. Thomas' back-up? Fellow longtime NFL great Barry Sanders (19 yards on six carries vs. WVU), who would go on to win the Heisman the following season.
Gundy quarterbacked the Cowboys that game, completing 12 of 18 passes for 161 yards. He threw a pair of picks and one touchdown, while Mountaineer quarterback Major Harris, a freshman, threw just seven passes, completing two, in a game largely remembered for the El Paso snowstorm that accompanied it. WVU fell a few feet short on a two-point conversion inside 90 seconds that would have tied the game.
"Joseph (Randle) has been good for us," Gundy said. "One of the areas in which he has strengthened our team is leadership. He has played, practiced and competed hard. The comparisons made with Thurman, both are good, cerebral football players. Both are good runners. Neither are great break-away speed players. They are very effective and they get big runs. They are good pass protectors and they have good hands and can receive the ball. I don't know that it's ever fair to compare a guy to an NFL Hall of Famer. That can be a little unjust. But, at this point in their career, Thurman was effective in the same areas Joseph Randle is."
On using multiple quarterbacks while trying to find offensive leaders: "I don't think that the position can give you a leader. Leaders are people who have earned the respect of a team through offseason workouts, through film study preparation, practice preparation and exhibiting toughness and instilling confidence in other players. So you'd rather not have a rotation at the quarterback spot, but at times you don't have that luxury based on the situation we are in right now. So other players have to step up, offensive linemen who are veterans, wide receivers, running backs. Those guys have to take a leadership role as the quarterback works his way in."