OSU football: Big plays, Spencer Sanders' resilience carry Cowboy offense
AMES, Iowa — By the time Chuba Hubbard was four yards past the line of scrimmage, it was clear no one was catching the Oklahoma State running back.
Spencer Sanders, though, begs to differ.
“I almost caught him,” Sanders said with the kind of smile that has been missing from the OSU quarterback’s postgame media sessions in recent weeks.
“I mean, I was flying.”
Sanders spent a lot of time chasing teammates on Saturday, celebrating the long touchdowns that sparked the Cowboys to a 34-27 upset of No. 23 Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium.
In another such moment, Sanders slung a screen pass to star receiver Tylan Wallace, who lowered his shoulder to pop past a tackler, then dropped a hammer of a stiff-arm on another pursuing defensive back on his way to a 71-yard touchdown.
“Oh my gosh, that was amazing,” Sanders said of the stiff-arm. “As soon as he stiff-armed, I jumped in the air and did, like, a nice punch in the sky.”
A metaphorical uppercut to the chin of the frustrations that have gnawed at the Cowboy offense over the last two games, both losses hung mostly on Sanders because of his eight total turnovers.
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Saturday’s first big blow was Wallace’s highlight-reel 71-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Early in the second quarter, Sanders flipped another screen pass to Braydon Johnson, one of the team’s fastest players, who slid between blocks by Dillon Stoner and Landon Carter and went untouched for a 50-yard touchdown.
Hubbard’s 68-yard score came on the next possession, giving OSU a 21-10 lead at the time.
Hubbard finished with his 116 yards on just 22 carries, and Sanders was effective in the run game with eight carries for 43 yards. Wallace had 131 receiving yards on eight catches.
Sanders completed 16 of 24 passes for 249 yards and just one interception — the last number being the most important.
After three weeks’ worth of fans criticizing the young quarterback for his mistakes, and coach Mike Gundy for not benching his starter, Sanders was sharp.
He made only one costly mistake, throwing across his body while scrambling to his right, getting intercepted.
As he walked off the field, Sanders told Gundy his mistake before the coach had a chance to correct him.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Sanders said. “I threw across my body, I'll fix it, it won't happen again.”
Gundy said he could recall four missed reads by Sanders in a game where the Cowboys had 402 yards of offense on 55 plays.
“He played well,” Gundy said of Sanders. “He continues to make some strides. Obviously, nowhere near being the finished product, but his emotions were held in check on the sideline and he handled himself very well.”
The offense couldn’t find the big play in the second half, stalling out and needing two field goals of 40-plus yards by Matt Ammendola. But it still did what it needed to do.
And Sanders showed his resilience in helping to get the 5-3 Cowboys’ season headed back in the right direction with three games against the lower half of the Big 12 Conference coming up next.
“I think he did a great job,” offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson said of Sanders. “He’s faced a lot of adversity for a first-year starter, and he’s taken a lot of the blame on his own shoulders.
“I’m proud of the way that he came out and got us a win on the road today. I think all these things are part of a maturation process for a quarterback now that he’ll be able to channel when he goes forward in his career.”