HOUSTON — OSU passes were going sideways and into the ground Saturday at Reliant Stadium. Penalty flags seemed to negate what few gains the Cowboys mustered.
New punter Kip Smith was so busy — five kicks by midway through the third quarter — he was wearing the neon orange paint off his shoes.
The Twitter world wondered if Mike Yurcich could be shipped back to Shippensburg after one game as offensive coordinator.
“We were about as blah as we'd ever been,” Mike Gundy said.
Nothing had really changed even after the Cowboys switched to quarterback J.W. Walsh after two series.
But there was a sense, hard to explain but easy to feel, that Walsh had brought some energy and cohesion to Yurcich's brand of the Air Raid offense.
And that feeling paid off. Walsh directed OSU to a 21-3 victory over Mississippi State, clarifying at least for now all questions about Cowboy quarterbacking.
Walsh is the man.
Gundy declared Walsh the starter for Game 2, Saturday at Texas-San Antonio, but no announcement was necessary.
“When he came in, he gave us a little bit of a spark, so we stayed with him,” Gundy said.
The Cowboys started relying on a Yurcich wrinkle (the shotgun option) on their already-installed full-house backfield.
Mississippi State defensive ends kept crashing, zoning in on tailbacks, and Walsh kept pulling the ball and scooting to the sideline. Late in the second quarter, Walsh's 46-yard run set up his three-yard touchdown run, and the Cowboys stormed to victory.
And clearly, the multi-threat Walsh is the best fit for Yurcich's offense, which incorporated quarterback runs at little Shippensburg and has done the same in one game at OSU, which has thrived for three years with pocket passing and lots of it.
So the OSU offense came full circle. When Walsh commited to OSU in 2009, the Cowboys deployed run-pass quarterback Zac Robinson. Then Dana Holgorsen was hired as coordinator, and Walsh was a misfit. He came to Stillwater anyway, tried hard, practiced hard, even had some success during OSU's 2012 QB carousel.
But turns out, the hiring of Yurcich was splendid news for Walsh.
“When I committed here, I was ready for whatever,” Walsh said. “I knew it was a business, and things would change constantly.
“With Yurcich here, and the way he calls a game, it's a much better fit, just because there's a little more QB run game.”
Doesn't Mississippi State know it. Walsh ran for 125 yards on 13 carries, most of them on those sweeps out of the fullhouse option. Walsh threw for just 135 yards, completing 18 of 27. The downfield throws of Brandon Weeden and Wes Lunt were nowhere to be found.
“The running game that was added to our offense by Coach Yurcich played to his (Walsh's) favor, because Mississippi State struggled defending it,” Gundy said. “We were getting chunks, getting in the open field running the ball.”
Deep into the game, you realized that Chelf maybe got the start Saturday as sort of lifetime achievement award. That those first two series were one last chance for the 2012 Cinderella Man to win the job.
“Could he have had another opportunity, maybe two or three?” Gundy said of Chelf possessions. “Sure. But we had to make a decision what direction we were going, and we felt like we were getting bigger plays and had guys running in the open field more with the schemes we were using” with Walsh.
Good call. Frankly, Chelf looked overmatched in those two series. He completed just three of six passes, for 10 yards, and his three misses came on two screen passes and a longer throw that easily could have been intercepted.
Where was the magic man of November, who led OSU to great offensive totals against West Virginia, Texas Tech, OU, Baylor and Purdue? Don't know.
But it's hard to imagine Chelf regaining this job anytime soon.
Walsh is a gamer. He throws well enough that defenses have to respect his arm, which seems to be improved from a year ago, and then he's got that run threat, off all kinds of wrinkles in formations that are a mixture of several coaches.
Walsh found his rhythm by the third quarter, a period in which he completed 12 of 14 passes for 100 yards, while also running four times for 25 yards. A 7-3 game became a 21-3 OSU lead.
“J.W. just being J.W.,” said OSU flanker Josh Stewart, Walsh's high school teammate. “He just makes plays. He was the main part of our success today. It took him making big plays for us to get on the same page. Once we did, it was over for Mississippi State.”
And because of Walsh, it might be over for Clint Chelf.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.