STILLWATER — Josh Stewart wasn’t supposed to catch the punt. But he did.
Charlie Moore wasn’t supposed to throw the pass. But he did.
Sometimes it’s best to ignore the instruction manual. OSU beat TCU 24-10 Saturday because a couple of players went by the feel instead of by the book.
In a game in which touchdowns were at a premium, Stewart returned a punt 95 yards for OSU’s first TD and then made a circus catch off Moore’s end-around pass to set up OSU’s final TD.
On a day the Cowboys switched quarterbacks, switched tailbacks and switched left tackles, OSU stayed in Big 12 title contention because it had Stewart, the best player on the field.
“It would be hard to disagree with that,” Mike Gundy said.
Clint Chelf replaced quarterback J.W. Walsh early in the second quarter and was marginally better. Freshman tailback Rennie Childs replaced Jeremy Smith in the third quarter and was much better. Daniel Koenig moved over to left tackle to shore up a battered offensive line, and who knows how that worked out?
On this Saturday, just a bunch of details. This is all you need to know. When the ball was in Stewart’s hands, good things happened.
Stewart had 10 catches for 141 yards and those two huge plays.
“To have a playmaker that special, that dynamic to help you, that’s what it’s all about,” OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “I don’t’ know what that is or how you get there. But if you could bottle and sell it, you’d make a million bucks.”
Truth is, the OSU offense was different with Chelf — more downfield throws — but not really any more productive. If Chelf keeps the job, maybe that will change. He’s no doubt rusty.
But here’s a tip. Get the ball to Stewart.
TCU coach Gary Patterson certainly wanted to keep the ball away from Stewart, saying he instructed punter Ethan Perry to kick the ball away from Stewart. But late in the first quarter, Perry instead boomed a punt 54 yards to the OSU 5-yard line.
That’s the territory where return men are supposed to let the ball bounce. But Stewart risked the wrath and caught the ball.
“I didn’t even realize where I was,” Stewart said. “I just saw a lot of space between me and the first guy, the gunner for TCU.
“When I see space on the punt return, you gotta take the chance, because a punt returner should be able to make guys miss. I did that. Had some great blocks in front of me. Just worked out well.”
Stewart made a couple of nifty cuts to break into open range. He started to tire late in the runback as Frogs converged and began weaving like he was making an afghan, avoiding would-be tacklers enough to cross the goal line.
Wiggling, Stewart called it. “It’s easier to tackle somebody that’s running straight,” he said. “By me wiggling, they didn’t know what angle to take or anything like that.”
Stewart had quite the load early in the game. He had seven catches and 194 all-purpose yards 16 minutes into the game. Walsh, his high school buddy, targets Stewart frequently. Chelf is more inclined to throw downfield at one of OSU’s rangier receivers.
But after the Cowboys sputtered around for much of the day and let the Frogs climb within 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Stewart was needed again.
Moore, a high school quarterback back in Bullard, Texas, came around on a reverse and tossed a long pass Stewart’s direction. Trouble was, TCU safety Chris Hackett had Stewart well-covered.
Moore’s orders were clear. Unless Stewart was wide open, don’t throw it. Moore threw it anyway.
“I wanted him to throw it, but I wasn’t expecting him to,” Stewart said.
Hackett was in prime position to intercept or knock down the ball, but Stewart leaped, maneuvered his body in front of Hackett and made the catch.
“I went to the sideline, and J.W. said, ‘I don’t think you understand how good of a catch that was,’” Stewart said. “But when you just try to make plays for your team, stuff like that happens.”
The 27-yard gain put OSU on TCU’s 7-yard line, and Childs scored on the next play.
Ballgame. Not a stellar victory for the Cowboys, but those are rare in Big 12 football 2013. Just win. OSU is 2-1 and has staked its claim in the five-team race for a Fiesta Bowl berth.
OSU’s defense is playing well enough to make the Cowboys a contender. OSU’s offense hasn’t found its sea legs. The postgame tenor seemed to indicate Chelf will take over. We’ll see if things pick up.
But Saturday, this we know. The Cowboys don’t win this game without Stewart.
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.