Freshman QB Sanders impressive in Oklahoma State debut

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              FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders is shown during an NCAA football game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. He wasn’t named the starter until right before kickoff, but after a winning a lengthy battle with Hawaii grad transfer Dru Brown to take over as Oklahoma State’s quarterback, redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders enjoyed an impressive debut in the Cowboys’ 52-36 victory over Oregon State Friday night. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)
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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Though he wasn’t named Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback until right before kickoff last weekend, redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders enjoyed an impressive debut in the Cowboys’ 52-36 victory at Oregon State.

After winning a lengthy QB competition with Hawaii grad transfer Dru Brown, Sanders stepped into the spotlight Friday night and completed 19 of 24 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 109 yards on 13 carries.

“He played well, handled the offense well,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, a former Cowboys quarterback himself from 1986-89. “I didn’t think that he got flustered at any time, which is important for a quarterback at any level at any school. I thought he had enough energy to bring a lot to our team but not so much that he got out of control. I think that’s important to play the position.

“It’s just one game. We’ll see how he develops as the season goes on, but we were pleased with what we were able to get out of him last Friday night.”

Gundy acknowledged that he initially had planned to give Brown some meaningful action, but that Sanders played so well that he kept him in the entire game. Oklahoma State scored on all five of its drives in the first half, four of them touchdowns. The field goal it settled for, a 23-yarder by Matt Ammendola early in the second quarter, came only after a Sanders pass to Tylan Wallace in the end zone on third down was reversed from a touchdown to an incomplete pass following a video review that showed Wallace’s foot came down out of bounds.

OSU then scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half, not needing to punt until 3:24 remained in the third quarter. Brown ended up getting just two snaps, handing off the ball both times in the final minute to drain the clock.

“In the end, we felt like he might be able to help us in the first game with his ability to run,” Gundy said of the decision to go with Sanders. “That’s really all it came down to.”

And Sanders ran very well, compiling the most rushing yards by an Oklahoma State quarterback since J.W. Walsh had 125 in 2013. He had individual rushes of 23 yards, 12, 9, 21, 8 and a high of 30 in the fourth quarter, and even had one highlight-reel play where he completely leapt over a defender. Gundy was slightly concerned about a couple of the hits he took but wasn’t about to limit Sanders in any way.

“He’s got to play,” Gundy said. “There were three occasions where he initiated contact that he didn’t need, in my opinion, but he’s played that way throughout his career to a certain extent. We just got to let him play.”

Sanders excelled in the run-pass option, which he utilized numerous times to gain significant yardage after reading how the Oregon State defense was lined up. Gundy noted that was an important part of the job for an Oklahoma State quarterback.

“Both quarterbacks can run and both quarterbacks have good ball skills, so it’s a relatively simple concept, based on the way you do it, but you have to have a guy that’s got some ball skills and a little bit of quickness, in our opinion,” Gundy said. “So that’s why we have that as a little part of our game, to use at certain times.”

Overall, Gundy was happy with Sanders’ performance but wasn’t surprised by it. It’s safe to say there won’t be nearly as much deliberation when determining the starter for the Cowboys’ home opener on Saturday against McNeese.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Gundy said. “It’s just hard to tell with young people, how they’re going to react. So I wasn’t really surprised, because he’s played in high school at such a high level, in really, really competitive games. That obviously helped him some, in my opinion.”