Spencer Sanders has to be better.
That’s the key for Oklahoma State this season. They are filthy rich on offense with Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard, a one-two punch at wide out and running back that few can match in all of college football. Both are easily in the top 5 at their positions and its exceedingly rare for a team to have that. Either can take the ball the distance any time they touch it.
Play smart, protect the ball, feed the monsters at the skill positions. That formula will put the Cowboys in line to have a chance in every game they play this year. The big question they have to work on over the open week and figure out before Baylor comes to town is can Spencer Sanders do that?
Sanders is young and electric. He has a cannon for an arm and sprinters speed. If he ever puts it all together he’ll be phenomenal. But he also panics when his first read isn’t there. He carries the ball like a loaf of bread, leading to fumbles. He has a tendency to throw the ball high which leads to tipped balls and picks. He locks onto receivers and seems hesitant to throw to anyone except Wallace and slot receiver Dillion Stoner. Texas Tech exposed the fact the he only likes to scramble to the right and if you cut that off his ability to turn a broken play into a long run is mostly taken away.
And expect everyone else they play to follow the same formula Tech did: blitz to slow down Hubbard and pressure Sanders, cut off the right side scramble, and double Wallace. Basically make OSU use literally anything else but the two studs and Sanders’ legs beat you.
I’ll admit his offensive line didn’t give him much help against the Red Raiders, but he still committed 5 turnovers leading to 13 points for Tech in a game decided by 10. On top of that he held onto the ball too many times and missed too many easy throws. The concerning thing isn’t that a freshmen had a bad game, that happens. The concerning thing is that he’s only played one good game all year, the season opener at Oregon State, and then has gotten worse every game since. Sure he’s had a few jaw-droppers in every one but mostly his play on the field has been trending downward.
So is playing him now what’s best for the team right now? I’m not calling for him to be benched in favor of back up Dru Brown, not yet, so don’t burn down my Twitter, but with two weeks until the next game this has to be at least discussed behind closed doors by the coaching staff. The playbook is obviously condensed for Sanders. They’ve dumbed it down for him. There’s no variety at all in the play calls. Bubble screens, handoffs to Hubbard, slants and screens to Wallace to beat the double coverage he gets, the occasional bomb to whoever is lined up opposite of Wallace, tuck it and run. That’s it. Rarely is there anything over the middle of the field. They obviously don’t trust him to throw it in the red zone.
As for Dru Brown we’ve only seen him play in garbage time in one game at Oklahoma State but he was a two-year starter at Hawaii. Based on his film from the Rainbow Warriors he’s not an elite quarterback but he’s above average. He has a decent arm and can run when you needed. He’a more skilled passer than Sanders is right now and being a 5th year senior almost certainly wouldn’t panic as quickly and be better at progressions.
So is having the less explosive, less skilled but steady passer better than having the inconsistent but freakishly athletic quarterback what this team needs? With an All American running back and an All American receiver you don’t need a quarterback to make the ESPN Top Plays every week. You need a quarterback that gives those two the best chance to light up the scoreboard. Targeting the other receivers more than three times a game opens up things for Wallace more. Being able to hit check downs and beat the blitz slows down the pass rush. Spreading the ball around makes the defense guard the whole field and not just double Wallace and stack the box to stop Hubbard.
Maybe it’s as easy as explaining to Sanders that you need him to do less. Distribute, make the smart plays, explain that his time to be the star is the next three years, not right now. Or maybe it’s just normal freshmen growing pains and another two weeks of practice will settle him down. But add in that Hubbard and Wallace are both likely gone to the NFL after this season and the pressure to win now and not waste their time in Stillwater is even greater.
And that’s really Mike Gundy’s job: win now. What’s best for his team right now is what he has to consider during this well timed break between games.
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