With Walsh, Cowboys add option wrinkle

STILLWATER, Okla. -- J.W. Walsh would never know when he’d be coming into the game.

Now, he’ll know he won’t be coming out.

Monday, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy announced that Walsh would be his starting quarterback going forward, effectively ending a two-quarterback experiment with Walsh and Clint Chelf. Gundy pulled Chelf after the first two series against Mississippi State in favor of Walsh, who mostly with his legs sparked the Cowboys to a 21-3 win.

“We started to see results from what J.W. was giving us,” Gundy said. “We were playing a team that has the capability of beating us -- we needed to stay with what we thought gave us the best chance to win the game.”

The Cowboys have decided Walsh gives them the best chance to win the rest of the season. As a result, Oklahoma State will feature a very different offensive attack than the Cowboys have been accustomed to running. That means fewer four-wide formations and more three-back sets, as Oklahoma State transitions to an option-based offense that utilizes Walsh’s skill set.

"Any time you have something that's working, you never want to go away from that,” said Walsh, who leads the Big 12 in rushing after one week. “Use what's working and attack what you see with the defense, and that's what we did Saturday.”

The Cowboys did most of their damage against Mississippi State with Walsh operating the option out of a three-back pistol offense.

"We installed that last spring,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “It was effective back then, so we continued to work at it. We studied tape of the San Francisco 49ers, who ran it well with Colin Kaepernick. We tried to grab some film from that. They ran some of those exact plays out of that formation, so we just looked at a lot of their tape."

The turning point in the game came late in the second quarter with Oklahoma State trailing 3-0. Out of the three-back pistol, Walsh read the defense perfectly and took an option keeper 46 yards down the left sideline. Two snaps later, Walsh scored on the exact same play to give the Cowboys their first lead.

“The schemes that we played were new and played to his advantage,” Gundy said. “The schemes that we were running were new and I don't know if Mississippi State was ready for them."

That will be one challenge for the Cowboys the rest of the season. They may have caught Mississippi State off guard. That won’t be so with future opponents.

Yurcich faces another challenge as the Cowboys switch attacks. Oklahoma State has been recruiting to fit the offense Brandon Weeden quarterbacked.

Oklahoma State is deep and talented at wide receiver. But when the Cowboys go to the three-back set, their better playmakers like Josh Stewart or Tracy Moore are on the sidelines. Against Mississippi State, Stewart and Moore combined to catch only eight passes. For Oklahoma State to reach its full potential offensively, the passing game will have to remain part of the attack -- and there's reason to believe it can be. Last season, Walsh completed 66.7 percent of his passes and had three games where he threw for more than 300 yards. Incorporating the option while keeping Stewart and Moore on the field and involved will be paramount for Walsh and the Cowboys.

“I feel like we'll be able to build on [the option],” Walsh said. “And expand on our offense going forward.”