We have a special guest for this week's "The Other Side" segment: Gina Mizell, a college classmate of mine at Arizona State. Gina covers Oklahoma State better than anyone, and she brings us some great stuff this week ...
Round and round goes the quarterback carousel for the Cowboys. Any chance we're going to see a fourth different starter for the Pokes come Saturday? Jokes aside, who do you think has the inside track at getting the start Saturday?
Your fourth guy would be Jase Chilcoat, a former walk-on who decided to focus on school this semester but was lured back to the team with a scholarship after Wes Lunt's first injury in mid-September. Thankfully for the Cowboys, with all three quarterbacks now available (at least medically), Chilcoat won't be needed. Anyway, my gut says OSU stays with Chelf, for a couple reasons. With Lunt's injury troubles this season, why rush the true freshman back? Especially when Chelf has played so well that even Gundy admitted he was a bit surprised. Chelf has been around the longest (even though he hasn't played much), so he really knows the offense and has made the best overall decisions with the ball, according to Gundy. He's shown leadership and confidence with his throws, something that he was lacking when he lost the quarterback competition in the spring. Though Walsh is back practicing, Istill don't think is quite healthy enough to play. Lunt could certainly learn and benefit from playing in four more games, and Gundy has always used the mantra that you don't lose your job due to injury, but getting 100 percent healthy should be the top priority right now. No matter what happens the rest of the season, Lunt is still the future of the program. Gundy and Monken have also used the cliché that they're going to play whoever "gives us the best chance to win." Right now, I think that's Chelf.
Folks knew Joseph Randle was going to be a big part of Oklahoma State's offensive plans this season, but is it safe to say he's been better than expected? Where has he improved the most in your eyes?
His touchdown numbers are down from a season ago, but part of that is because the offense is just a bit less explosive than it was in 2011. Where Randle has really shined this season is in his ability to get 25-30 carries and be consistently productive. Last season, he averaged about 15 carries while splitting snaps with Jeremy Smith. This season, Smith was hobbled by an ankle injury for about a month and Randle had to carry the majority of the load. He's shown a great combination of nifty open-field moves, speed and power this season, and his versatility as a receiver is really helpful for whoever is playing quarterback. With all the injuries that have hampered the Cowboys, Randle has been extremely durable and dependable.
It seems as if the Oklahoma State defense has made strides in recent weeks. What is the biggest difference?
This defense has been an odd unit this season. Overall, I do think it's more sound and consistent. But the takaways that the Cowboys became famous for when they led the nation a season ago have virtually disappeared. Their goal is to force three per game, and they've done that just once this season. All that said, OSU is getting more conventional stops and giving up fewer yards this season. The biggest improvement is likely at defensive tackle, where junior college transfer Calvin Barnett has been an immediate force and sophomore James Castleman has been a steady contributor all season. Gundy has said this is the best DT duo OSU has had in years, and their impact up front has trickled back to the linebackers and safeties. OSU's rushing defense is currently tied for 26th in the nation after ranking 90th in that category a season ago.
Give some brief insight as to what each of the three quarterbacks that has played for the Cowboys brings to the table.
We'll start with Chelf, since my best guess is he'll go Saturday. As mentioned above, he knows the offense the best because he's a fourth-year junior and spent two seasons as Brandon Weeden's backup. He has a strong arm and some mobility. Even though he's a veteran, I think we've all been surprised by his presence and command of his teammates, because those were the leadership elements that are necessary as a quarterback but were apparently lacking in previous years and in the spring. He's been accurate with his throws and distributed it to the correct spot.
Lunt, as I noted, is still regarded as the future at this position because he's the best fit to run this throw-first spread offense. The Brandon Weeden and NFL prototype. He's tall and has, by far, the best arm of the three. He's had some great moments in his limited playing time, and some freshman moments. He's thrown three pick-6s in, basically, three games. Coaches also love his calm demeanor, football intelligence and maturity for a kid who just turned 19.
Walsh is a dual-threat quarterback who is a whole bunch of fun to watch. He's also extremely tough--his serious injury happened in the first quarter agaisnt Iowa State and he never came out of the game. He's obviously got an ability to make big plays with his legs--whether it's on designed runs or scrambles when a play breaks down--but has the weakest arm strength of the three. The original plan this season was to start Lunt and have a "package" for Walsh in certain situations. With all the injuries, that obviously hasn't panned out.
This game looks like a battle for the Alamo Bowl. Given the departures of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, coupled with the quarterback injuries and a non-conference loss to Arizona, would a berth in that bowl satisfy OSU fans?
For the realistic and rational fans, I think it will. Growing pains are expected heading into a season where you start a true freshman quarterback. The adversity has turned out to be even greater this season with all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball. So to have the chance to finish with eight or nine wins and go to a really solid bowl? I think that's pretty impressive and shows the type of program Mike Gundy and this coaching staff has built. Before the season, I predicted OSU would finish 8-4 and go to the Alamo Bowl. The season has taken a much different path than I (or anyone) had expected, so to possibly wind up at the same destination is a bit nuts.