STILLWATER — Mike Gundy said Sunday that it's possible he's never been the head coach of a team that got so banged up at one time.
Injuries, of course, aren't the only reason Oklahoma State sputtered Saturday against Kansas. But the growing number of hurt players, particularly at the offensive skill positions, in recent weeks has become an issue for the Cowboys.
The recent injury list now includes starting wide receivers Tracy Moore (ankle) and Isaiah Anderson (finger), who both left the game against the Jayhawks. Running back Jeremy Smith (ankle) got just one carry against KU, and fellow back Desmond Roland didn't play, apparently because of an injury. Neither did backup receiver John Goodlett and No. 1 punt returner David Glidden.
Not to mention, starting quarterback Wes Lunt has not played in a game in more than a month after injuring his left knee against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15.
“We had a number of guys (Saturday) that really couldn't help us in the game,” Gundy said. “I don't remember a time when we have been in that situation — maybe not ever during my time as the head coach.”
The best illustration of the shrinking depth? Junior Nick Rockwell, a former walk-on who has never caught a pass in a college game, is now listed as a backup inside receiver.
“(The young quarterbacks) need as many weapons at their disposal that they can have,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “If you had Brandon (Weeden) here, that'd be different. Those guys make other players around them better.
“I think our guys are getting better, but you only have so many bullets. You only have so many guys that can make a difference in the game.”
Every college football team gets hit by injuries at some point. Heck, the Cowboys didn't completely escape them last season, as starting receiver Hubert Anyiam was lost for the season in October with a broken foot, while starting receiver Josh Cooper and Smith both missed time.
But the 2012 Cowboys don't feature the same amount of elite talent and depth as the 2011 squad.
“We had more O-linemen to rotate in, we had more skill guys to rotate in,” Monken said. “We had a first-round pick quarterback (Weeden) and a first-round pick wideout (Justin Blackmon), so it's easier to overcome some of those.”
Monken points out that the depth really started to take hits during the offseason, when the Cowboys lost three key offensive players in receiver Michael Harrison, running back Herschel Sims and offensive lineman Michael Bowie. Harrison was suspended for the 2012 season by the NCAA and decided to leave the football program. Sims was dismissed in June, days before he was charged with two felony counts of second-degree forgery for allegedly stealing the ID card and taking $700 out of the bank account of linebacker Jeremiah Tshimanga. Bowie transferred to Northeastern State after violating team rules at OSU.
Because Gundy no longer discusses specific player injuries, it's unclear when any of those hurt players will return to the field. He did say, though, that none of the new injuries are believed to be of the season-ending variety.
So what happens in the meantime?
Monken said subtle changes to routes and alignments are made with less experienced players. And the Cowboys will likely need at least a couple of those guys to contribute more, especially at receiver.
Spring star Charlie Moore had a breakout game against the Jayhawks, hauling in five catches for 97 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown. True freshmen like Austin Hays, who started Saturday and was in the game when things got tight in the fourth quarter, Blake Webb, C.J. Curry and Brandon Sheperd could see more time. Rockwell may get his shot. Redshirt freshman Torrance Carr, who has yet to play this season because of a foot injury, showed up on the depth chart for the first time this week, which could mean he is close to making his OSU debut.
“As long as (Tracy and Isaiah) are out, I'm going to try to do all I can to help this team,” Charlie Moore said. “When my name's called, to make plays. I'm going to do everything I can to help these young guys get it going and to be a leader for them.”
Added quarterback J.W. Walsh: “They may not have the leadership that Tracy and Isaiah had, but they still have talent and we still have faith in those guys. We just have to get the ball in those guys' hands and (let them) show what they can do.”
Monken ultimately knows it doesn't matter who is on the field for the Cowboys. He has to dial up an offense that caters to those players' strengths and can still find success.
“Whenever you start losing talented players, your efficiency is going to drop off,” he said. “Now, it's your job as a coach to figure out what your guys do well and to still move the ball and score points. That's your job, because that's what people care about.”