By Mike Kays
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy still isn't sure whether starting quarterback Wes Lunt can return from his knee injury or backup J.W. Walsh will get another start against Iowa State. Either way, he knows the Cowboys will need to block better than they did against Kansas.
Oklahoma State, which has the Big 12's top-rated offense, finished with 371 total yards — more than 200 below its season average — in a closer-than-expected 20-14 win at Kansas on Saturday. The Cowboys, forced by wet weather conditions to run the football more than usual, had just 116 yards rushing on 44 attempts.
Walsh, who's started the last three games in place of Lunt, threw for 255 yards, although 72 of that came on a short pass that receiver Charlie Moore turned into a touchdown.
Kansas players “were just more physical up front than our guys,” Gundy said Monday. “We had practiced well, but defensively, they played with more effort than we did up front on offense, so we weren't very effective running the football. That forced us into a situation where we became somewhat predictable throwing the ball.
“It was good to get out of there with a win. We'll need to play much better this week to beat Iowa State.”
It was the Cyclones who effectively ended Oklahoma State's national championship hopes last season, stunning the visiting Cowboys 37-31 in double overtime on Nov. 18, one day after Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and two boosters died in a plane crash in Arkansas. That was Oklahoma State's only loss in a 12-1 season.
Gundy gave no indication Monday if Lunt — who injured his left knee early in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15 — will return when Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1) hosts Iowa State (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
Asked Lunt's status, Gundy said simply “day-to-day,” although he noted that Lunt “is out there with us” during practice and is working with the Cowboys' first-team unit.
Walsh said he is preparing as if he'll be the starter on Saturday, his standard answer to that question each week since stepping in for Lunt. Gundy said it could be an advantage for the Cowboys to not let on who will start, because the playing styles of Walsh, the stronger passer, and Lunt, who's more of a running threat, are so different, making it more difficult for opposing defenses to prepare.
Oklahoma State coaches will take a wait-and-see approach with Lunt, as they've done the last couple of weeks.
“We have enough reps in practice for both guys. . The reps won't become an issue,” Gundy said. “I think the best way to express this is that we want to make a decision on Thursday after practice if (Lunt) is in a position to be successful. We have to decide who gives us the best chance to score points and win the football game.”
But whoever's behind center, the Cowboys have to play better up front, Gundy said.
“It wasn't all their fault, but that's where it starts,” he said. “We didn't physically block anybody and give our guys a place to run the ball. Then it snowballs into (having to) pass, the ball is wet and slippery, and it just looked bad. You tie all those things together and it's not a good day on offense.”
Left tackle Parker Graham acknowledged the Cowboys' offensive line put in lackluster performance against Kansas.
“As an o-lineman myself, we really want to bring the physicality up this week,” Graham said. “You can make as many excuses as you want to. The fact is, we didn't play as well as we wanted to. The good thing is, we get another game this week.”
There's also some concern about the health of two of Oklahoma State's top receivers, Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson, who missed the Kansas game because of ankle and finger injuries, respectively. Gundy said he's hopeful those two will return to face the Cyclones, but whoever sees action has to make plays.
“We're concerned about making sure we have guys out there who give us a threat to make big plays,” Gundy said. “The health of Wes is progressing every day. That's one area that we can't control. He could be considerably better Wednesday than he is today. He could be slower. It's just hard to tell. But we'll have a group of guys that will be out there. If they're freshmen, if they're young guys, they have to find a way to make plays. It's just the way it is.”