STILLWATER — Oklahoma State fans who attended Saturday's spring finale at Boone Pickens Stadium finally got to see in person what the Cowboy coaches have expressed all spring.
There is little separation between starting quarterback contenders Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt.
The Gray team, which featured the second-team offense and the first-team defense, technically defeated the Orange team 31-21 by using a wacky scoring system that flipped a 24-0 Orange lead to the Gray at the half. But really on display were the Cowboy quarterbacks, who each passed for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns while taking turns directing the first- and second-team offense.
“Each quarterback, at times, showed signs of being good enough to start next year,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “And then I saw at times where there were some deficiencies with each one of them.”
The final stat lines for Walsh (16-of-27, 310 yards), Chelf (18-of-31, 212 yards) and Lunt (15-of-23, 215 yards) look impressive. They also took care of the ball, with a Chelf fumble accounting for the only turnover against a defense that compiled an NCAA-best 44 takeaways a year ago.
Yet each quarterback had their good moments and bad moments.
Chelf started his day with a pair of three-and-outs and then a lost fumble inside the 10-yard line. But he also orchestrated perhaps the most impressive drive of the game late in the first half, going 80 yards in 15 plays in a two-minute drill situation by spreading the ball around to four different receivers — Josh Stewart, Charlie Moore, Blake Jackson and Isaiah Anderson — before taking the ball into the end zone himself from two yards out.
“I just tried to get the ball into the playmakers' hands and make the right reads,” Chelf said. “It's not always going to be the deep ball. Try to get completion and let the skill guys go to work.”
Walsh got the first- and second-team offense into the red zone twice in the first half, but the Cowboys came away with just one Quinn Sharp field goal. But then Walsh tossed two touchdown strikes after intermission, including a 70-yard bomb to Kevin Johnson on the first play of a third-quarter drive to highlight what Gundy called Walsh's best performance of the spring.
Lunt had the fewest attempts and completions, though the crowd consistently gasped whenever the big-armed freshman let the ball rip. And he put the first touchdown on the board when he hit Charlie Moore, who then split the defense and outran it for a 58-yard score.
Actually, those three quarterbacks often found guys named “Moore.” Charlie had the game's breakout performance, hauling in nine catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns. And Tracy Moore, who has moved from inside receiver to outside to help fill the void left by Justin Blackmon, tallied four catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
“As everybody has seen, it doesn't matter which one it is,” Tracy Moore said of the quarterbacks. “They all can throw it, and we all can make plays at receiver from first string to third string.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken wasn't so quick to judge — or overreact to — the quarterbacks' performances immediately after the game, however.
“You look at something, and you just have to be careful of rushing to judgment without watching the tape, you know?” Monken said. “There's a lot of beautiful girls out there with terrible personalities.”
But Monken did feel he was equipped to analyze each quarterback's overall spring.
To him, Walsh had the most up-and-down journey — starting strong, then dipping during the middle weeks before finishing his “best football” over the past few days. Lunt, as expected for a true freshman, continuously improved over the course of 15 practices and emerged as a viable candidate about halfway through the workouts. And Chelf's spring was described as “steady.”
But not one quarterback has consistently performed considerably better than the others. That's put the Cowboys and the coaching staff in this predicament. But Chelf and Walsh also both said it's made all three quarterbacks better.
“One of us would have a great day, and then another one would have a great day, and then all three of us would have a great day,” Walsh said. “There's been a lot of good days from all of us, and (Saturday) was just a sample of that.
“That definitely sparks a little fire underneath all of us, and that's also a tool we used this spring.”
Now, Gundy and the rest of the offensive staff face the task of picking a starter heading into the summer, something the head man has been adamant about since before spring practice began. They will all meet on Wednesday to compare and contrast the candidates and announce a starter. Between now and then, there will be plenty of film study and evaluation.
Gundy said he already knows which quarterback he believes gives OSU the best chance to win but will not yet share it because he does not want to sway the other coaches. The right guy isn't so clear to others.
“If it was that obvious, we'd have already made the decision,” Monken said. “So it's not going to be that simple. It's just not. If it was that simple, we wouldn't have split all the reps. That's the way it is.
“Whoever it is is going to function well, and we're going to score points and win games.”