STILLWATER — Josh Stewart, who knows Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh better than any other teammate, was not alarmed when Walsh mentioned his knee hurt as they walked together from the locker room to the postgame interview room Saturday following the Cowboys' 31-10 victory over Iowa State.
After all, Walsh had played the whole game, throwing for 415 yards and running for another 46.
“I just kind of looked past it, like it wasn't a big deal,” Stewart said. “(I thought) he was just bruised up.”
So what did Stewart think when Sunday's medical check revealed Walsh had actually played the bulk of the contest with a serious knee injury, one that will now sideline him for the rest of the season?
“It was shocking,” Stewart said.
That was still the general mood Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after OSU coach Mike Gundy announced the stunning severity of Walsh's injury. That adds another hit to what has been an uncertain quarterback situation in Stillwater for more than a month, as starter Wes Lunt is still recovering from a left knee/ankle injury that has kept him out since Sept. 15.
The Denton Record-Chronicle reported Monday morning that J.W.'s father, John, said the injury is a fracture that will not require surgery. But Gundy reiterated during his weekly press conference Monday afternoon that it would be “very, very difficult” for Walsh to return within the next six weeks.
Which is why Gundy said Walsh's ability to play through the injury was so impressive, even comparing the quarterback's pain tolerance to what he had read in a book about Navy SEAL training.
“I'm not trying to make him out to be something other than what he is,” Gundy said. “But I think people need to realize that the guys that play this game put their body on the line every Saturday.
“We have guys that play with pain. He's more visible, because he's the quarterback. But what he was able to do Saturday after sustaining that injury is pretty impressive. That's a credit to what he stands for and who he is.”
Walsh apparently sustained the injury after taking a hit in the first quarter, and Gundy estimated he played about 70 snaps on the bad knee.
Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken both said they could tell Walsh was hurting or sore during the game, but not that he was severely injured. Gundy was hoping a bursa sack had burst, or something equivalent.
And teammates Joseph Randle and Charlie Moore thought Walsh had just suffered a minor bump or bruise.
“I saw him limping for a minute,” Moore said. “I was like, ‘I guess he must have just got bruised on the hip or something.' That stuff happens. That's all I thought, once he started playing (again).”
Added Randle: “I had no clue he was hurt in the game. He showed a little bit of signs, but it wasn't signs of a season-ending injury. It's kind of tough.”
But Monken and Gundy were notified Sunday afternoon, following the routine weekly checkup, that the injury was worse than expected. Then word quickly spread around the football facility that the Cowboys' second starting quarterback had gone down, this time for the rest of 2012.
“I was so surprised,” Randle said. “I was like, ‘J-Dub got hurt?' I thought he had gotten hurt (Saturday) night or something.”
So what do the Cowboys do at quarterback moving forward?
Gundy sounded hopeful during Sunday's media teleconference that Lunt could return for Saturday's game against TCU. The true freshman has been practicing for two weeks, and though Gundy said Lunt is not yet 100 percent healthy, he may now be ready to play.
“If we had to go out here and play right now, he could play,” Gundy said. “But he hasn't played in a game.”
Still, Lunt will share the first-team reps this week with junior Clint Chelf, who Monken said was the backup quarterback against ISU, even though Lunt dressed for the second consecutive game. The coaching staff will then make a decision on a starter Wednesday night, based on several factors like Lunt's health, each quarterback's productivity in practice, how the team reacts and who gives the Cowboys the best chance to score points.
Though coaches still believe Lunt is ultimately the long-term answer at quarterback, Chelf could be an intriguing option because of his grasp of the offense and mobility, especially with a depleted receiving corps that continues to get hit with its own injuries.
But no matter who plays quarterback for the Cowboys on Saturday and beyond, Moore can't deny the toughness Walsh displayed while playing hurt — severely hurt — against the Cyclones.
“Once I found out the injury he had,” Moore said, “I was just like, ‘Man, it shows a lot about his character.' It makes me feel good about having a quarterback like that leading us. It's fun to play with a guy like that.”