STILLWATER — Josh Stewart went up to pal J.W. Walsh on the sideline, telling his quarterback to focus on the next play.
But there wouldn’t be a next play for the OklahomaState signal-caller. While apologizing to his receivers for a second-quarter interception thrown into the end zone — already his second pick of the day — Walsh also revealed that Clint Chelf would be taking over behind center.
The Cowboys’ quarterback conundrum took another turn Saturday afternoon, when Chelf stepped in and finished out the day in a 24-10 OSU victory over TCU at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“We felt like we needed a spark on offense, so we made a change,” coach Mike Gundy said.
That’s nearly identical to what Gundy said seven weeks ago, when the No. 21 Cowboys (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) switched from Chelf to Walsh — seemingly permanently — after Chelf was ineffective in the first two series of OSU’s season opener against Mississippi State. Yet the Cowboys’ offense has often struggled during Big 12 play, prompting some outside the program to clamor for a flip back to Chelf.
Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich didn’t do it against West Virginia, when the Cowboys couldn’t crack the end zone for most of the second half. Or against Kansas State, where OSU did not pick up a second-half first down until turning on the jets for its late go-ahead touchdown drive.
So why now? Was Walsh’s pick in the end zone the final straw?
“At that time, it was,” Gundy said. “It’s a combination of things. You’re planning against a team that has been very, very effective at stopping people and eliminating people from scoring points.
“There’s just differences we feel like you have to attack them. In this game, Clint gave us some advantages in attacking their defense, in our opinion.”
That game plan was to throw the ball downfield, no matter who was quarterbacking. And it’s clear Chelf has a stronger arm than Walsh.
But the day didn’t start well for Chelf, as he was hit and lofted an interception to Kevin White on his first play. From there, Gundy classified Chelf’s performance as “pretty good.”
Chelf completed 10 of his 25 passes for 178 yards. He zipped a 46-yard pass down the middle to Tracy Moore to set up a 28-yard field goal by Grogan to give OSU a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter. He began a drive in the final minute of the first half with a 30-yard strike to Charlie Moore, a possession that ended with a missed 32-yard field goal by Grogan. He didn’t throw a pass on OSU’s game-clinching touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
“There were a couple of throws that didn’t look good, but I think there were reasons for that,” Gundy said. “Overall, I thought he managed the game pretty well.”
Neither Chelf nor Walsh was made available for postgame interviews. And Gundy wouldn’t divulge what Saturday’s switch means for the Cowboys going forward, or how practice reps will be divided in the upcoming week.
So Chelf could be the guy against Iowa State. Or it could be Walsh. Or maybe even both, using a similar approach as last year where Chelf was the starter but Walsh came in the game for a specialty package in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Both Chelf and Walsh have been here before. Chelf has been passed on for the starting job, only to be thrown into duty in the middle of a game. Walsh has gone from starter to second-teamer after recovering from a knee injury.
That’s why Stewart isn’t concerned about the mindset of his longtime friend. And why he’s ready to go with Chelf.
“He’s a strong dude,” Stewart said of Walsh. “I really think it makes it better for him. He gets to prepare better and try to get his spot back, if he wants it, and makes him work harder. It’s good when you’ve got quarterbacks battling like that.
“But at the same time, right now, Chelf is our guy. He’s playing pretty good, so we’re just gonna roll with him for right now.”