John E. Hoover: As Mike Gundy knows, QB talent can be hard to project
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, December 29, 2012
12/29/12 at 5:21 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.
DALLAS - Mike Gundy can flat-out coach quarterbacks.
But can he evaluate them?
The Oklahoma State head coach's record on teaching QBs and getting them to play at an all-star level is unassailable.
The three best quarterbacks in school history - not counting Gundy; you can rank him wherever you want - were Gundy disciples.
But just as real as the prolific numbers put up by Josh Fields, Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden is the fact that none were Gundy's first choice.
Fields came off the bench his freshman year to replace Aso Pogi. Robinson came off the bench to replace Bobby Reid. And Weeden came off the bench to replace Alex Cate.
What in the name of Rusty Hilger is going on in the quarterback room in Stillwater?
The truth is, it's not so easy to evaluate quarterback talent. Sometimes a guy just has to play.
"I think it is difficult," Gundy told the Tulsa World on Friday after his team practiced at Highland Park High School for Tuesday's Heart of Dallas Bowl. "Well, difficult may be a little extreme. But it's not as easy as people think."
It happened again this year.
Gundy - and, to be fair, ex-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Todd Monken - picked true freshman Wes Lunt, who, after a couple of injuries, sits third on the depth chart.
Meanwhile, one-time third-stringer Clint Chelf, a junior stuck behind two freshmen with virtually no chance to play, emerged as the Cowboys' best QB this season.
"The pattern you're after, there's some truth to it," Gundy said. "That's why the situation we're in this year is so unique. Because Wes clearly won the job in the offseason. ... Then when Clint played, he played way better than he ever practiced. It wasn't even close. So it's a unique situation."
To complicate matters, OSU plays Purdue at Cotton Bowl Stadium next week. Purdue's starting quarterback is sixth-year senior Robert Marve. Three years ago, after starting at Miami in 2008, Marve needed a place to transfer, and Oklahoma State was one of the places he almost landed.
Marve's career has been derailed by three ACL injuries, a car accident and two suspensions, but he hasn't been anywhere near the prospect everyone thought he was coming out of Tampa, Fla. In one year at Miami and three seasons at Purdue, Marve has 3,690 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
Gundy said Marve and his family communicated with "some of our assistant coaches, but I don't know how interested he was. I never talked to him face-to-face. It never got to that point."
Marve was suspended for one game his freshman season after two misdemeanors and sat out that season's bowl game under academic suspension. Gundy said it never reached a point where he had to make a decision on whether to take Marve or not.
But if Marve had come to Oklahoma State in 2009 - and a source says Gundy and his staff wanted him - Weeden might have never seen the field.
"It's just funny how things worked out," Gundy said.
It's funny, too, how things continue to work out for Gundy and OSU's quarterbacks.
Fields was a true freshman behind Pogi when the 2001 season went sour. With Gundy as his position coach, Fields came off the bench in the Bedlam game and led the Cowboys to a historic upset. Fields then went on to set school records for single-season passing yards (3,145) and touchdowns (31) as well as career touchdowns (55).
"The more he played, he was better," Gundy said. "Sometimes in practice, he didn't look very good, and I'd get upset with him. But he always played good."
Similarly, Robinson languished on the bench early in the 2007 season - Gundy's third year as head coach - before Reid finally had to be pulled. Robinson was an instant upgrade, setting the school record for single-season total offense (3,671 yards) as well as career passing yards (8,317), touchdowns (66) and total offense (10,175).
Then it happened to Weeden. When Robinson was injured in 2009, Gundy called on backup Alex Cate, who went 0-for-9 with an interception in the first half of a nationally televised Thursday night game against Colorado. Weeden came in and led the Cowboys to a dramatic victory, then over the next two years set school records for single-season passing yards (4,277, then 4,727), touchdowns (34, then 37), completion percentage (.669, then .724), etc. He also holds OSU career marks for passing yards (9,260) and TDs (75).
But who in this year's group is Weeden/Robinson/Fields, and who is Cate/Reid/Pogi?
Lunt opened the season as the starter, but has six touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 62.5 percent of his passes. Walsh, the backup (and now a designated runner), has 11 TDs and three INTs to go with a .667 completion rate. And Chelf has 12 TDs, six INTs and a .583 completion percentage.
Gundy said he doesn't buy the "gamer" notion (a given player performs better in games than he does in practice), but acknowledges it does seem to have played out in the cases of Fields, Robinson, Weeden - and Chelf, who is 2-2 as a starter and will start the bowl game.
As good a teacher of quarterbacks as Gundy may be, he says he has to adjust his philosophy every time he encounters another "gamer."
"Yeah, it's a little different," Gundy said. "You see the mistakes they make as not as glaring as what they've done earlier. Because they've shown they can play pretty good in games.
"A guy's never played in a game and he makes a lot of mistakes in practice and wasn't productive? What makes you ever think he's gonna be that way in a game? But some guys that play better in games, like Clint and J.W., both of 'em play better in games than at times they do in practice. Both of 'em."
Gundy, then, has some serious work to do when the Heart of Dallas Bowl finishes. He knows now that all three guys can play, whether it's practice or games.
First up, he must look closely at his initial evaluation of Lunt - just like he did with Pogi and Reid and Cate - and ask himself if he was right.
"Did we make the right decision?" Gundy asks. "I think we did."
Original Print Headline: QB talent can be hard to project
Heart of Dallas Bowl
11 a.m. Tuesday
Radio: KFAQ am1170
OSU coach Mike Gundy. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World