STILLWATER — Todd Monken always liked the odd scheduling quirk that gave Oklahoma State a bye week both before and after its Big 12 opener against Texas.
The Cowboy offensive coordinator's logic was that four games in six weeks would allow an offense with a bevy of young skill players — most notably, of course, true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt — additional time to get comfortable before the meat of the season began.
Now that first open week before the No. 12 Longhorns come to Stillwater will be used for something different — to tweak the Cowboys' scheme to cater more to backup QB-turned-emergency starter J.W. Walsh.
“Obviously, we have to do things differently,” Monken said. “There's no way around it.”
The exact diagnosis of Lunt's left knee injury, which knocked him out of Saturday's 65-24 OSU victory on the sixth play of the game, is still unknown. But it's safe to assume that he probably will not be healed in time for the Texas game, meaning Walsh will likely make his first-career start against the Longhorns.
It's clear Lunt and Walsh have different strengths, and that Lunt is the better fit to run OSU's throw-first spread system. That's a large reason why Lunt ultimately won the starting quarterback job out of spring practice, and Walsh is the run-throw guy coaches have been building a package for to give defense a change-up look.
But changing quarterbacks does not mean the Cowboys can completely overhaul their offense, or dust off the Zac Robinson playbook. OSU's current spread is what Walsh has learned in his year-plus in Stillwater. And it's what the offensive linemen, receivers and running backs know, as well.
“It won't do any good just to create stuff and not have everybody be able to execute it,” Monken said. “You're better off doing what you do. Sure, so we take some things, take advantage of (Walsh) and maybe some other things, but you can't just wholesale change.
“Otherwise, you're a phony to what you believe in, because we won't be any good at it. You either believe in something — you can tweak — or you don't.”
Walsh clearly got more comfortable as Saturday's game progressed. His first lateral pass was nearly jumped for a pick-six, and the Cowboys pounded the ground game for most of the first quarter. But early in the second quarter, Walsh zipped two straight long balls to Blake Jackson in the middle of the field, the second resulting in a 20-yard score. By the end of the game, he had racked up 347 passing yards and four touchdowns to go with 73 rushing yards and a score.
And this week, Walsh will see a dramatic bump in practice reps, from six of 37 snaps during team drills to 28 snaps. Monken said he expects Walsh to most improve is his drop-back passes, where defenses show more blitzes and coverage looks. And now he's got significant film — Savannah State doesn't count — of himself in a college game to look at.
“How do we speed him up? Like all players, he's only going to get better with reps,” Monken said. “What's he going to get better at? He's going to get better at drop-back stuff, because he's going to get more reps this week.
“When you only get 20 percent of the snaps during the week, you're not going to improve. I think he's gonna see some things. You gain confidence through success, but you gain a lot through failure.”
The extra week should benefit coaches, too, who don't have to start game planning for Texas right away and instead can spend additional time making adjustments for Walsh. A large portion of the load will fall on offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who plays a huge role in crafting the scheme for the running game, and, of course, Monken, who calls the plays.
“Our base system's got to stay the same,” Monken said. “Holy cow, that's what (Walsh) knows. But then we've got to tailor it to him. That's what you're supposed to do. That's the puzzle. That's figuring it out.”
It's for a different reason than Monken originally thought, but the Cowboys' bye week still appears to have come at the perfect time.