STILLWATER — Here's the point-blank question.
Who is Oklahoma State's starting quarterback?
“Well, right now, it's J.W. (Walsh),” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “Until Wes (Lunt) gets to where he can practice and handle a heavy load.”
It's now been more than three weeks since Lunt, OSU's season-opening starter, sustained a left knee injury on the Cowboys' first drive against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. And as the Cowboys come out of their second bye in three weeks — which book ended a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Texas — Lunt's health status remains uncertain.
That's reflected on OSU's most recent depth chart released Sunday, where again Lunt “or” Walsh is listed as the starting quarterback for Saturday's contest at Kansas. Gundy calls Lunt “day-to-day,” and said he will not make a final decision on naming a starter until Saturday.
“We're not going to put (Lunt) out there until he's ready,” Gundy said. “He's not a fifth-year senior trying to get in his last season of his career.”
But offensive coordinator Todd Monken has been encouraged by Lunt's recovery in recent days, noting the true freshman practiced in pads Sunday night and “threw the ball really well.”
“We just have to get to the point where we are confident he can run,” Monken said. “He ran a little bit the other night, so we're hopeful to get him back this week so we can see if he can protect himself.
“I think that's the biggest thing. Also, seeing who gives us the best chance to win.”
With all the hype surrounding Lunt, OSU's first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener since at least 1950, in the months after he earned the No. 1 job following spring practice, it's almost hard to believe he's, really, only played in one legitimate football game so far. But it was a strong performance, as he set the Big 12 freshman record with 436 passing yards and tossed four touchdowns and three interceptions against Arizona.
Instead, it's been Walsh getting the bulk of the game snaps, first in relief against Savannah State in the opener, then in emergency duty against ULL when Lunt was knocked out, then in his first-career start against Texas. And the redshirt freshman has thrived, completing 67 percent of his passes for 797 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 159 rushing yards and a score. He currently ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency (181.22).
“You have to get into it a little bit before you start to learn,” Gundy said of Walsh's progress. “Brandon Weeden was here for three years before we played him, and he still went through that learning curve in his first 250 to 300 snaps. Walsh has started that learning curve.
“He's made mistakes and corrected those mistakes and had successful plays that have followed those mistakes. He's different in that way than he was on Sept. 1.”
The extended practice reps during the two bye weeks have also benefitted Walsh. Monken said he has noticed Walsh recognizing his own mistakes faster and having a better understanding of what corrections to make. Walsh added he feels like everything is moving at a slower pace now that he's more comfortable running the first-team offense in a game.
“I've got a long way to go, still,” Walsh said. “But I feel like three weeks ago, my eyes, head, my heart was beating fast and everything was just all over the place. I feel like now I'm starting to slow it down a lot more, and I'm going to continue to do that.”
Could Lunt be healthy enough to play when the Cowboys take the field in Lawrence on Saturday afternoon? Perhaps. Gundy said Lunt's practice reps will continue to increase as his pain decreases.
But Walsh will be ready to start again if needed.
“I'll continue to prepare like I'm the starter, no matter who they name,” Walsh said. “We'll see what they say, and we'll go from there.”