STILLWATER — Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh never threw to Justin Blackmon, but don't blame the Cowboys quarterbacks for looking for him — or at least a reasonable replica — down near the goal line.
Blackmon was a comforting and conquering and almost automatic red zone threat.
Yet here in 2012, the search for a substitute continues.
Through the early going of Big 12 play, Oklahoma State's red zone efficiency lags well off the pace of the league's leaders and well behind any of Mike Gundy's teams, including his dreary 4-7 debut of 2005.
Remember the signature fade-to-Blackmon, responsible for many of OSU's 17 red zone touchdown passes in 2011?
The Cowboys have but one red zone TD toss through three conference games and just five red zone scores overall, after piling up 33 in nine games a year ago.
The fade-to-Blackmon has faded to black.
And OSU's red zone numbers overall have fallen. They've only produced 13 opportunities inside the 20 in the three games, converting 10 for a 76.9 percentage that ranks eighth in the conference. And of the 10 scores, four are field goals.
“We've certainly got to be better there and score touchdowns,” said Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “And some of it is my part. It falls directly on me.”
Many factors are at play, starting with the unreasonable comparisons to the most dynamic offense in school history a year ago. But also rampant injuries at quarterback — Lunt and Walsh have both been hurt — as well as wide receiver and running back have crippled the cause. The quarterbacks are freshmen, too.
“Honestly, the biggest impact is not having Blackmon,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “You take a first-round pick at wide receiver … and then we haven't had Tracy Moore in the last couple of weeks. That impacts your red zone more than anything.” The impact could expand to OSU's record and even its push toward bowl eligibility. The Cowboys, 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12, have so far played Texas, Kansas and Iowa State — teams that are a combined 3-9 in the conference.