Adam Boedeker: Walsh impresses in first start

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Sue Ogrocki/AP
Texas coach Mack Brown, left, talks with Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh following the Longhorns’ win Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
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It looked like the script for J.W. Walsh could not have been written any better.

The Texas Longhorns, the No. 12 team in the nation, marched 75 yards to take a five-point lead with 29 seconds remaining in a crucial Big 12 opener Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium. He had a raucous crowd in the building, a nationally televised game and 29 seconds to win and go down among Oklahoma State legends.

And for a few wacky seconds, it looked like it might happen.

On fourth-and-8 from his own 27-yard line, Walsh, who was making his first career start in relief of the injured Wes Lunt, had 11 seconds to somehow get the Cowboys in the end zone.

After a few laterals, including one back to Walsh, the former Guyer standout heaved the ball across the field to a waiting Charlie Moore, bringing back memories of the famed “Music City Miracle.” Moore went streaking up the Texas sideline for 42 yards before being tackled at the Longhorns’ 38 as time expired.

That was it. Walsh’s first start in a Cowboys uniform was over, and it wasn’t the result he wanted, as Texas beat OSU 41-36 to put the Cowboys behind the 8-ball in the race to repeat as Big 12 champions.

What happened as soon as the final whistle blew, however, told you all you needed to know about Walsh’s effort.

Walsh, helmet off, was the first person Texas head coach Mack Brown found at midfield to hug and congratulate on a job well done. Soon after, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz did the same thing.

“Their team fought their guts out,” Brown said after the game. “J.W. Walsh played a great football game. It’s one of those games where we just had the ball last. If they would’ve had the ball much longer, they probably would have scored.”

And that would have come as no surprise.

After all, it was Walsh, the guy who in his high school days seemed to excel even when his team came up short. The guy who had two last-second game-winning touchdown passes as a senior — one to send his team to the state championship game.

Sure, there were jitters for Walsh. That was helped a little when he threw a 6-yard completion to high school teammate and best friend Josh Stewart on the game’s first offensive play. On the second play, he was the second person to meet running back Joseph Randle in the end zone to celebrate a 69-yard touchdown run.

“There were a bunch of nerves,” Walsh said. “But I think you have to have some nerves because it’s a big stage to play on. At the same time, you need to get rid of them quickly, and I think we all did that.”

Against UT, Walsh completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 307 yards and two TDs. He rushed eight times for 57 yards and took one sack. He also threw an interception that led to an early Texas score.

“I thought J.W. played really well,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said. “Did he make some mistakes? Yes. Was he confused at times on some reads? Yes. But that’s a good defensive football team. I don’t know that there are that many teams in the country that will be more athletic [than Texas].”

And still, Walsh kept the Texas defense on its toes all night, whether he was finding Stewart or throwing to Tracy Moore four times on one drive after not looking his way for an entire half. Or maybe it was the quarterback run game that is not a factor with Lunt.

On the first of two fourth-quarter scoring drives Walsh led, he started the drive with a 50-yard scamper on a designed run. He did a little bit of everything.

And even after all of that, Walsh likely will return to backup duty when Lunt returns from the knee injury he suffered two weeks ago. With a second bye week over a three-week span coming Saturday, Lunt could be ready to roll when the Cowboys travel to Kansas on Oct. 13.

What happens for the rest of this season could determine Walsh’s future with the Cowboys, who have proven to have an incredible luxury of having two very capable, yet different, quarterbacks who both will be around for a good while.

After Lunt won the job from Walsh following spring workouts in April, the conventional thought was that the more fleet-footed Walsh would have numerous offensive packages in place to give the Cowboys a change-up from Lunt’s pocket passing, which better fits the system of offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

That hasn’t really materialized, as the only time there would have been an opportunity to run the offense as planned came in OSU’s 59-38 loss at Arizona on Sept. 8. In that game, Walsh saw the field just once on an unsuccessful fourth-and-1 attempt.

After the game, Monken told reporters it was the first time he’d seen noticeable frustration from Walsh. If so, that’s understandable.

Walsh is the ultimate competitor. Always has been.

Throughout this whole process, Walsh has made it clear he does not want to talk about transferring. He loves OSU, and he loves the Cowboys’ program and coaching staff. That’s to be respected, but knowing Walsh, that ultimately will not be enough to feed his insatiable desire to compete — and to win.

Transferring following this season would allow him to play elsewhere for two years after sitting out next season, and if Saturday night was it for Walsh as a starting quarterback this season, there’s one thing that is certain. He is now the top transfer target in the country, and the Cowboys better hope his love for his university prevails or they’ll lose a good one.

ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is aboedeker@dentonrc.com .


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