Cowboys struggle to find collective identity as season progresses


The Associated Press

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy talks on his headset as he watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter of the game against Louisiana-Lafayette in Stillwater, Oka. on Sept. 15. Oklahoma state won, 65-24.

Brendon Morris

Oklahoma State’s game against Texas on Saturday will be a measuring stick for OSU coach Mike Gundy and the program he’s built.

Sometimes it’s an overused term, but in this case it fits. Oklahoma State’s football team was hit hard by graduation after the 2011 season, losing two first-round NFL draft picks in Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys also lost defensive captain Markelle Martin in the fourth round and both of the team’s starting defensive ends.

Since the departures, Gundy has constantly had to answer two questions: Will he reload or rebuild, and who is his quarterback?

The latter was announced at the end of spring practices when freshman Wes Lunt won the starting job. His 6-foot-4 frame and electric arm was exactly what Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken wanted for Weeden’s replacement.

Lunt’s play this season was initially strong, and included him breaking the Big 12 single-game passing record for a freshman against Arizona when he threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns. It seemed as though Gundy had answered both of the offseason questions with ease — at least until the first quarter of the Louisiana-Lafayette game.

Lunt was tackled as he rolled to his right and remained on the turf while grabbing at his knee in obvious pain.

Just like that, the second question came back into play. Will the Cowboys reload, or will they rebuild?

Gundy has said several times that his goal is to have a two-deep depth chart, a situation that would provide flawless transitions between the starter and backup in an injury situation.

It’s a recruiting plan much like Texas coach Mack Brown has in place, though Oklahoma State doesn’t quite have the power that the Longhorns have in their offseason acquisitions.

“There’s a number of advantages in playing or coaching for Texas,” Gundy said. “If you started writing down the big-time guys they’ve had, you’d take up an entire notebook … We’re starting to get into that geographical region more than we have in the past, but we’re obviously not on their level.”

But Gundy is moving in the right direction, and it showed two weeks ago when former Denton Guyer quarterback J.W. Walsh lined up behind center in Lunt’s absence.

Walsh, a redshirt-freshman, torched the Ragin’ Cajun defense for 420 total yards, which was good for the eighth-best single-game total in Oklahoma State history.

The backup looked strong but it was also against La.-Lafaeyette, who’s obviously not a Big 12-quality football team.

Now, Walsh faces a bear of a challenge in a Texas defense that boasts two of the best defensive ends in the nation in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, and the talent doesn’t stop there. The Longhorn secondary is just as loaded, and is so athletic that they play man defense a majority of the time. That game plan is something that has given OSU some trouble against the Longhorns in their last two match ups.

“This will be a good test for both of us to find out where we’re really at, at least in my opinion,” Gundy said. “I don’t know that we’ll play anybody that will be as athletic as these guys.”

This game will show where Gundy stands. Is he where he wants his program to be, a two-deep football team capable of sustaining their level of play even when the injury-bug bites? Or is the team still trying to get there, trying their hardest to rebuild after the mortar of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was removed from their brick wall?

Saturday’s match up against the best defense in the Big 12 will tell you all you need to know.

Rebuilding, or reloading?