STILLWATER — J.W. Walsh stood ready on the sideline at Reliant Stadium, knowing he would enter Oklahoma State's game against Mississippi State at some point, but unsure when exactly that moment would be.
The Cowboy quarterback's chance came on the third possession. By the time the night was over, Walsh had left Houston as OSU's new starter.
But Walsh didn't just win that job Saturday. He started to win it in April and June and August, as the Cowboys moved from spring ball to summer workouts to fall camp.
“Production,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of what gave him confidence Walsh would find success come game time. “Just watching when you're grading the film and you're looking at the practices and the scrimmages, you just really look at production, and he's been very productive for us.”
Walsh has always been lauded for his leadership and toughness — Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said Monday the quarterback is “wired different” because of the way he's always won sprints and stadium runs while going head-to-head with the team's fastest players. Walsh has also always possessed a dual-threat ability that made him a valuable asset to the OSU offense, even when he wasn't starting last season.
What Walsh needed to improve was his arm.
Those mechanic corrections started with former offensive coordinator Todd Monken. But they've gone even further with Yurcich.
Yurcich says he's always thought Walsh's arm was strong enough to run the Cowboys' Air Raid spread system. But the coordinator put the quarterback through specific drills that targeted his base — such as the way he transferred his weight from his back foot to his front foot — along with his upper-body posture and the movement of his left (non-throwing) arm.
All of that has helped create what Walsh believes is a more consistent throwing motion and, thus, better accuracy.
“From day-to-day, week-to-week, you'd look on film, it would be one way and then it would be the other way,” Walsh said of that motion in the past. “That's something we've been trying to work on is keeping it consistent and make it's the same throwing motion every time.”
So while Walsh primarily credits Yurcich for the improvements in his throwing ability, Yurcich gives props to Walsh. After all, the quarterback needed to take what they had tweaked in the spring and keep applying in the summer, both while working with his father, Denton Guyer coach John Walsh, and with the Cowboy receivers during summer workouts.
“It's really those summer months where he has to work on those things,” Yurcich said. “He obviously did the hard work that was needed.”
That wasn't a surprise to Josh Stewart, the Cowboy receiver and Walsh's best friend, who called the quarterback an overachiever. And those improvements were put on display during fall camp, where word started to leak out that Walsh was perhaps outperforming projected starter Clint Chelf.
Against Mississippi State, Chelf took the first snap. But after two stagnant drives, Walsh took the first-team job.
Walsh said Gundy or Yurcich never told him that the game officially belonged to him, that Chelf would never rotate back in. But Walsh also never found himself looking over his shoulder, either.
“I definitely wasn't doing that,” Walsh said. “I was just going out there and playing football and trying to execute the plays. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we weren't.
“I had no idea how they were going to do the reps or if, at any point, we were going to switch again. I had no clue.”
So Walsh just kept on playing. And, eventually, producing, throwing and running for more than 100 yards while mixing zone-read plays with primarily short passes.
Yurcich said Monday that he liked the way Walsh took care of the ball, both as a runner and a thrower. As for areas that need to be improved, the coordinator pointed to a couple errant throws, most notably a missed touchdown strike to Desmond Roland near the pylon. But the overall performance was enough to tab Walsh the starter moving forward.
Walsh wasn't aware of that decision Saturday until media members informed him that Gundy had made the announcement minutes earlier. He's let that sink in the last couple days — that the improvements he made in April and June and August have officially paid off.
“Any time you get a chance to get out there and go play with your teammates is always fun and exciting,” Walsh said. “I think the best part is being able to put in the work in the offseason and to be able to go out and put that to the test is always exciting.”