STILLWATER — Mike Gundy keeps fielding questions about his scuffling offense. Within his admittedly uncomfortable answers, it's what the Oklahoma State coach doesn't say that may be most revealing.
On the heels of three straight seasons of explosive attacks averaging 537.7 yards and 46.2 points a game, OSU has regressed, averaging 445.2 yards and 38 points through five games. In Big 12 play, those numbers dip to 381.5 and 27, and that came against West Virginia and Kansas State, two teams with a combined 1-5 conference record and defenses that rank in the bottom half of the Big 12.
So, what, or who, is to blame?
Gundy isn't pointing fingers. Well, not exactly, although he does point to someone the Cowboys don't have — an NFL-caliber quarterback.
“If you have a quarterback that's somewhat close to getting ready to play in the NFL and is that type of player at that particular time,” Gundy said, “you can overcome a lot of deficiencies with your football team.”
The Cowboys have some deficiencies: a thin offensive line that has struggled to deal with minor and major injuries; a yet-to-fire running game; and a passing attack that hasn't stretched the field, leaving a stacked cast of talented receivers underutilized.
Nothing, presumably, Brandon Weeden's big arm couldn't help camouflage.
“The pass plays that Weeden ran, those are the same ones that we run this year,” Gundy said. “There's not any pass plays that we had called with Weeden that we haven't called this year. It's the same scheme.
“The end results (with Weeden) make it look a lot better.”
Gundy's analysis isn't intended as an indictment of J.W. Walsh. Heck, quarterback play is in the crosshairs all across the Big 12, just as the conference's reputation nationally continues to take a hit.
After a rich recent run of superb quarterback play put 10 current signal-callers on NFL rosters, only Baylor's Bryce Petty looks like a pro now. And Petty is no given, with his early résumé built upon a weak opening feast of a schedule that includes the likes of Wofford and Buffalo.
As Gundy points out, young quarterbacks can develop and mature, so no need to write off the current crop just yet. Experience can be a major factor, too, in avoiding mistakes. Still, right now in the Big 12, there’s a serious lack of dependable, premium quarterbacking. And Saturdays are exposing it.
The search for elite quarterbacks is on, and not only in forever longing places like Lawrence and Ames, but Austin and Norman and Stillwater, too.
“Well, they're hard to find,” Gundy said. “There's only 32 of them in the world, for the most part — 90 of them (including backups), give or take a few.”
The Cowboys have two quarterback alums on NFL squads in Weeden and Zac Robinson.
And in defense of Walsh, both operated with better protection up front and each had an NFL receiver on the outside in Justin Blackmon and Dez Bryant.
Still, not long ago, these Cowboys were drawing comparisons to the 2011 OSU squad that won the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl. Proven quarterbacks and preseason conference favorite status were the rationale behind such chatter, however misplaced it has turned out to be.
“Obviously, offensively, we're not that team,” said Cowboys wideout Tracy Moore. “We don't have a superstar quarterback or a superstar wide receiver.”
Moore went on to say that this version of the Cowboys can still win, and win big. The method, however, must be different on offense.
“It's attacked in a different way,” Moore said. “The ball is getting spread out more, more guys are getting more touches. The focus is on the whole team.”
The spotlight, however, keeps coming back to quarterback.
Maybe it would be different with West Lunt. Cowboys coaches once thought he offered the promise of an eventual pro.
Or maybe quarterback commitment Mason Rudolph can change the complexion when he arrives in January.
But for now, the Cowboys may just be who they are.
“If you're really, really good at quarterback and you can score a bunch of points, you can make more mistakes,” Gundy said. “If your quarterback is real mature and understands and has a lot of experience, then it's easier to take more chances in the other phases of the game. But if not, you kind of have to manage the game based on what your personnel is.
“Most teams go as their quarterback goes, based on his availability with what he can do in the game.”