By Nick Snow
STILLWATER — Sometimes timing is everything. And for Oklahoma State, there was no better time for true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt to make his return than last Saturday’s game against TCU.
Coming off a knee injury, Lunt completed 18 of 33 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys routed the Horned Frogs 36-14 at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“He played really well,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “Even more so because of the situation. If it was an experienced guy like Brandon Weeden, you wouldn’t compare it to that. You would probably say it was average, but for a guy who hadn’t played much or practiced much, I thought he bounced back pretty well.”
The win over TCU helped build confidence in the young quarterback — something he’ll need when he faces a Kansas State defense that has allowed 17 points per game this season.
“Wes did great,” Oklahoma State senior offensive lineman Parker Graham said. “Hopefully he can take the experience from the TCU game and use it this week to get better and get ready for Kansas State.”
The Cowboys may be going into the Little Apple with a baby-faced quarterback who has limited playing experience, but it’s not like Lunt hasn’t been in that situation before. In Oklahoma State’s first road game of the season, Lunt broke several single-game passing records for a freshman, completing 37 of 60 passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s only been in (a situation like that) once and at Arizona he handled himself well,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “But where Arizona is a good football team, this is obviously the No. 2 team in the country and they’ll be fired up and going by 7 p.m. This is will be a good challenge for him. … We’ve been fortunate over the last few years that we’ve communicated and functioned fairly well in a noisy environment, and we would expect for the same this game.”
Expectations may be high for Lunt as he faces one of the stingiest defenses in college football, but they aren’t unreasonable expectations.
“We really didn’t know what to expect from him under the circumstances he faced,” Monken said. “But he’s about right where we expected him to be. He played about as well as could be expected after not playing for six weeks. Obviously the injury hurt him, but we know that he’s only going to get better each week.”
Getting better — both physically and mentally — has been the goal since injuring his knee against Louisiana-Lafayette. It’s been a slow process at times, but there has been some progress.
“Saturday, he had some passes here and there that he could fix, but after that he found his groove and was just going,” Oklahoma State sophomore receiver Josh Stewart said. “We’re very comfortable with how he’s playing and with how he’ll play. He was doing well in practice, but that’s way different from a game. He went into the game trying to get the feel back, and once it came back he was good”
As Lunt continues to bounce back from injury and develop with each game, Graham said he and his fellow offensive linemen feel more pressure to keep the defense from laying a hand on Lunt — especially with backup quarterback J.W. Walsh likely out for the rest of the season.
“He took some big hits against TCU and we were kind of worried that he wouldn’t get back up,” Graham said. “But he bounced right back up and was like ‘Let’s go.’ That’s just the kind of guy he is. As an offensive line, we have to do a better job of protecting him. Whether it’s in practice or in a game, we want to keep our quarterback clean — no matter who it is. He is really starting to develop and we don’t want to do anything that might hinder that.”
“When somebody sacrifices their body like that, knowing they’re about to get hit, it makes you more motivated to make a bigger play for that guy,” Stewart added. “When I saw on film him getting hit like that, it really makes you respect somebody who takes those hits and motivates you to keep working hard for him.”
Jason Elmquist contributed to the story.