MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — J.W. Walsh trudged across the Mountaineer Field turf looking like he was carrying the weight of the Cowboy Nation on his shoulders.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy jogged up behind his quarterback, patted him on the back and encouraged him to get into the locker room. With great effort, Walsh started jogging toward the tunnel and off the field.
Leaving with a loss is never easy, but for Walsh and the Cowboy offense, this one was particularly tough to take.
West Virginia 30, OSU 21.
This one was on Walsh and Co.
On a day when there was plenty of Cowboy blame to go around — mistakes were the rule, not the exception — the offense sputtered in just about every way imaginable. The run game was ineffective. The pass game was off. The play calling was suspect.
“There were times when we were functioning and doing fine,” Gundy said, “and then we'd have a drop or two and then a poor throw and then we'd put the ball on the ground.
“Those aren't small mistakes. Those are big mistakes.”
Those issues were evident from the beginning.
On OSU's first possession, the Cowboys had two run plays that went for a grand total of 3 yards, 1 from Jeremy Smith and 2 from Walsh. There was no where to go, no where to run.
While Walsh completed 2 of 3 passes on that first possession, he also took a sack because he held the ball too long. He just didn't look comfortable.
That's how he looked much of the day.
Walsh finished 20 of 47 for 322 yards, and while he had three touchdown passes, he also missed on more passes than he cares to remember. Two of those misses were intercepted.
“I'm going to take those all on me,” Walsh said of the interceptions. “Bad throws.”
The second was particularly horrible. Tracy Moore was wide open, and Walsh flat overthrew him. Worse, it set up West Virginia's game-clinching field goal late in the game.
It wasn't the only time Walsh missed open receivers.
After OSU put together a great drive early in the second quarter — 76 yards on which Walsh ran or passed for every yard, including the drive-capping 27-yard touchdown pass to Moore — the Cowboy defense came up with a momentum-swinging interception from Tyler Patmon. The offense was on the march again when Walsh under threw a wide-open Moore. He had to come back for the ball, and it gave Mountaineer defenders a chance to get there and deflect the pass.
A delay-of-game penalty and another incompletion later, OSU punted.
Five plays later, West Virginia scored and never relinquished control of the game.
“We just always found a way to make a mistake today when we shouldn't have,” Walsh said. “There's a lot of good that happened today, and there's a lot of bad.”
Give some credit to the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers are better than they were a year ago. Better tackling. Better to the ball. Better scheme. They kept Walsh guessing, disguising coverages and rolling safeties over the top late.
But for the Cowboys to be successful, Walsh needs to be better than he was Saturday.
Compounding Walsh's off day was OSU's lacking run game. The Cowboys managed a measly 2.8 yards a carry.
Smith's average: 0.1 yards.
Maybe the Cowboys weren't hitting the running lanes like they needed to. Maybe the running lanes weren't as good as they needed to be. Chances are good, it was a combination of both.
And it was costly.
With a chance to extend the lead to two scores early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had first and goal from the Mountaineer 3-yard line. They gave the ball to Smith on first down, but he was stopped just short of the goal line. After an incomplete pass — more on that in a minute — Smith got the ball again. This time, he was dropped for a 5-yard loss.
OSU was forced to attempt a 23-yard field goal, which Ben Grogan clanked off the right upright.
Was the missed chip shot field goal bad?
But this offense not scoring on three plays from 3 yards out was every bit as damning.
“There were three downs before that where we should've put it in,” Walsh said.
Cowboy offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said, “We'd like to have that call back on the third down, but you live and you learn.”
Running the ball up the gut when running up the gut wasn't working was a bad decision. But equally as bad was the second-down call. Yurcich dialed up a Walsh-to-Moore fade in the corner of the end zone.
That's a good call if Walsh is having a great day. Or if you're beating the tar out of Lamar. Or if Brandon Weeden is throwing to Justin Blackmon.
But under Saturday's conditions?
Not so much.
Yurcich had his hands tied a bit by the on-field struggles. If your quarterback is off and your running game is sluggish, coming up with effective plays is going to be tough. But Yurcich sure didn't help matters at times, especially when he kept trying to run up the middle when that just wasn't working.
Yurcich has to do better.
Everyone on the offense must.
If this team wants to contend for a Big 12 title, the Cowboy offense can't have another day like Saturday. It can't fall apart in the pass game and the run game. Someone, whether quarterback or tailback or coordinator, has to step up and perform better.
Walsh came out of the game believing that the Cowboy offense has better days ahead. Despite the dower figure he cast leaving the field, he was more upbeat later.
“You can keep your head up because you've got another week to play,” he said. “We have the rest of the Big 12 (schedule). We've got plenty of time to correct these mistakes and get better and move forward.”
For the sake of OSU's Big 12 title aspirations, Walsh and Co. must.