STILLWATER, Okla. — When J.W. Walsh lined up behind center on first-and-10 from his own 35-yard line, the former Guyer standout had nearly six minutes to drive Oklahoma State down the field and overcome a one-point deficit against the 12th-ranked team in the country on Saturday night.
He put his team in position to win the game, as the Cowboys kicked a field goal to take a two-point lead over Texas with 2:34 remaining, but the OSU defense could not make the lead stand as the Longhorns drove back and scored the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds remaining to post a 41-36 win and put a damper on Walsh’s first collegiate start.
“It’s too early to say [he’s a gamer],” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said of his redshirt freshman backup quarterback. “One thing I’ll say about him is I’m proud of the way he came in and competed. He made some mistakes, but there’s a learning curve that goes on as a freshman. It’s his second game. I’m proud of how he competed.”
Walsh made the start after starting quarterback Wes Lunt was injured on the sixth play of OSU’s win over Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago. Walsh relieved Lunt and led the Cowboys to a school-record 742 yards while racking up 420 total yards and five total touchdowns.
On Saturday, he was back at it and the OSU coaching staff drew up a perfect plan to get his feet wet.
On his first snap, Walsh threw a 6-yard completion to best friend and former Guyer teammate Josh Stewart. On the next play, Walsh was celebrating in the end zone after Joseph Randle scampered 69 yards to give the Cowboys an early lead.
“The first 10-12 plays we had to get him in the flow because there’s some jitters there,” Gundy said. “He’s from the state of Texas and he’s playing UT. We wanted to get his feet wet and get him rolling. That [pass to Stewart] seemed to help.”
Walsh led the Cowboys (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) on two fourth-quarter scoring drives and finished his night completing 18 of 27 pass attempts for 301 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a key interception on his second attempt of the night that led to an easy Texas touchdown.
OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said he was proud of the way Walsh played after a week of practice that saw him take control of the team’s offense, receiving the majority of the first-team reps in practice for the first time.
“The biggest thing with J.W. is he’s going to compete and the guys are going to believe in him and he’s going to get us lined up and give us a chance to win a game,” Monken said. “Were there mistakes? Sure. I promise you, though, he had no more mistakes than I did calling the game.”
Stewart had his handprint on the game as well, catching five passes for 81 yards and a 44-yard touchdown pass from Walsh that tied the game at the end of the first quarter.
“Josh has got a chance to grow into being a really good player because he’s tough,” Gundy said. “He blocks hard and he’ll go hit you in the mouth. If you hit him, he won’t ever give in. He’s maturing mentally and is kind of gathering himself.”
With a bye week for the Cowboys next week, Lunt possibly could be ready to return for the team’s Oct. 13 game at Kansas, but Gundy said he wasn’t ready to make a determination yet on who would be the starting quarterback for that game.
“It just depends on how Wes comes along,” Gundy said. “I just don’t know what to say.”
One thing is for certain: If Walsh does get another shot as the Cowboys’ starter, Monken said, he will only improve on what he did on a national stage Saturday.
“You’re going to learn from your failures much more than you learn from your successes,” Monken said.
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.