Tramel: Can Spencer Sanders elevate the Oklahoma State offense?
STILLWATER — OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders was back on the job last Saturday, looking like his old self.
That was good news.
That was bad news.
Just another twist in this bizarro 2020 college football season, in which Cowboy fortunes will soar if OSU’s offense can approach the level of play set by the OSU defense.
I know, kooky talk. But that’s the story of the 2020 Cowboys, who are playing superb defense at a school known for high-riding offense.
Sixth-ranked OSU hosts Texas on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, and if Sanders can get his offense on track, a College Football Playoff berth is a distinct possibility for the Cowboys.
“I think you’re going to see with their quarterback back, that’s going to give them more of an element they want,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, a somewhat neutral observer, since his Frogs don’t play OSU until Dec. 5. “The way they’ve played defense…”
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The Cowboys have the Big 12’s best defense so far but are middle of the road offensively. That’s a reversal of OSU tradition. The Cowboys for a dozen years have had mostly-great offenses, with only occasional slumps, and mostly-mediocre defenses.
If OSU’s offense can ignite with Sanders, OSU could storm a Big 12 that appears to be otherwise lacking a great team.
Sanders suffered an ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Sept. 19 season opener against Tulsa and didn’t return until last week against Iowa State. The OSU offense was functional without Sanders, and true freshman Shane Illingworth played quite impressively in his stead.
But Patterson is correct. The Cowboys need Sanders’ playmaking to open the gates for superstars Chuba Hubbard (tailback) and Tylan Wallace (flanker).
“I think we’re close,” receiver Dillon Stoner said.
Sanders completed 20 of 29 passes in a 24-21 victory over Iowa State, for 235 yards and a touchdown. His running ability was huge; he had a 20-yard gain and a 14-yard touchdown run.
But Sanders also threw two interceptions. One on a poor throw/decision, the other on ball tipped by a Cyclone. Sanders must limit turnovers. He was plagued by giveaways last season, when he threw 11 interceptions.
Sanders’ career touchdown/interception ratio now is 17/13, not nearly good enough in 21st century football.
“He played pretty good,” Mike Gundy said of Sanders. “There was times that he did things that I don’t think he would have if he didn’t get injured last year … he’s still not really to that point where he’s an experienced player.”
Sanders missed the final three games of 2019 with a thumb injury. Then virtually three games this season. That’s a lot of football left on the table.
“We’re all human, all make mistakes,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, I want to be perfect.
“I feel like you can always get better. Never close to where you want to be. I love how we’re playing right now. I feel like we’re playing good.”
Big 12 offenses have dipped this season. In offensive efficiency, OSU ranks fifth, with a rating of .365; .400 is a good level of eliteness. But league-leading OU is at .396, so the Cowboys are not far behind.
If this offense improves, and OSU maintains its defensive levels, the Cowboys become clear favorites for the Big 12 championship.
But Gundy warns that losses on the offensive line have impacted the Cowboys. Jake Springfield and Hunter Woodard are brand-new starters.
“We’ve got good skill players,” Gundy said. “We’re coming along a little bit as an offensive line. We’ve made some strides. We have to be protective somewhat of what we do. Offensively, we’re not in position to be like we have in the last 10 or 12 years here, where we can just open everything up and Katie bar the door. We’ve got to be careful.”
Sanders, too, has to be careful. He must protect the ball. Iowa State scored three touchdowns on OSU. One was via a 26-yard drive after an interception. If the Cowboy offense doesn’t give opponents a short field, the Cowboy defense doesn’t look like it will give up many points.
And if the Cowboy offense can approach the school standard, 2020 is going to go from bizarro to special in OSU eyes.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.