STILLWATER — Mike Gundy has concluded that perhaps Wes Lunt just needed to get hit a few times.
“Kind of like Rocky against Apollo Creed,” the Oklahoma State coach said.
Taking those blows — and getting up — in a game setting for the first time since sustaining a left knee and ankle injury more than a month ago seemed to temper any initial uneasiness from the true freshman quarterback, as Lunt’s productivity gradually progressed in OSU’s 36-14 victory over TCU Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“He was tentative some early,” Gundy said. “And then when he got hit a few times, it was like ‘It’s not that bad.’
“When they found out they weren’t going to beat him to a pulp, he was stronger for it.”
Lunt, who started OSU’s first three games before going down against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15, completed 18 of his 33 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown in his return to the field, while directing an offense that scored 36 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter.
“You’ve got to be a man and step up,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “There was one third down he just started floating. I thought there was pressure (coming from the defense). There wasn’t pressure. But he hasn’t played a lot.
“This is his first win, really, as a starter and finishing the game.”
The game started about as badly as possible for Lunt. His first pass bounced off of Josh Stewart’s hands, was intercepted by Elisha Olabode and returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) went three-and-out on their next drive, with Lunt misfiring on two throws. OSU trailed 14-3 after the first quarter.
But then the chunk plays started to come.
A beautifully thrown ball to Stewart for 35 yards in the second quarter. Another strike to Stewart on the run that gained 38 yards. Passes of 14, 15 and 11 yards to Randle, Jackson and Jeremy Smith, respectively, on a 10-play third-quarter drive that ended with OSU’s first touchdown and gave the Cowboys a 16-14 lead they would not relinquish.
And finally, Lunt found Charlie Moore over the middle late in the third quarter for a 20-yard score, his first touchdown pass in Boone Pickens Stadium.
“Wes played OK,” Gundy said. “Good enough to win. It’s not always easy to go back out and play when you’re young after you’ve had an injury. But I was proud of the way he competed.”
Added Moore: “He stayed composed throughout the whole game and kept progressing. That’s awesome to see from a young quarterback, especially his first game back. It showed a lot. I’m proud of him. I thought he played a great game.”
Coaches and players constantly talk about Lunt’s level-headed demeanor being one of his best attributes as a quarterback. They joke about the fact that he rarely talks.
It was more of the same Saturday. Monken said Lunt was calm while talking with him on the phone, even when things weren’t going well in the first half. Stewart said he only heard Lunt speak when he was calling the plays, but described his look during the early part of the game as one that signaled that the Cowboys “had to get this going.”
But when the offense started to score, and Lunt settled in, Stewart noticed his quarterback constantly smiling.
“Once you see him with a smile, you know something’s going on right,” Stewart said.
At this point of the season, Lunt should have had six meaningful collegiate starts to prepare him for OSU’s toughest stretch, starting with next week’s contest at undefeated Kansas State. Instead, he’s got two, with a six-week break in between.
The reality is Lunt isn’t as far along in his development as he would have been had he not gotten injured. But Monken trusts Lunt will learn from his mistakes in the first quarter that will show up in the game film as much as his correct throws in the second half.
And Lunt’s teammates are confident in their quarterback going forward.
“We knew that once he started to get clicking, then we’re fine,” Stewart said. “Wes is going to be good from here on out, so we’re excited for him and this offense and what we’ve got ahead of us.”