STILLWATER — Spencer Sanders is dealing with excruciating growing pains, an issue made obvious by the fact he has turned the ball over eight times over Oklahoma State’s back-to-back losses, and I don’t know what the Cowboys do about that.
He is such a talented quarterback, clear by early-season efforts at Texas and Oregon State. He has so many things to figure out, the most important being you can’t make plays with the ball if you keep losing it to the other team.
Sanders lost it to Baylor three times Saturday in OSU’s 45-27 defeat. He threw an end-zone interception late in the first half, lost possession in the pocket and gave the Bears a scoop-and-score in the fourth quarter, then lost it again trying to make a play on a scramble when the game was all but decided.
Sanders turned the ball over five times in his previous game, a 45-35 loss at Texas Tech two weeks ago.
Quarterbacks for Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma can’t get away with that kind of ball insecurity. That’s certainly the case for one at Oklahoma State.
Sanders knows this.
“There are some things we’ve gotta fix. On my part, I’ve gotta fix turning over the ball,” he said Saturday. “It’s on me ...
“I’m trying to do the best I can for this team and extend plays. I’ve just gotta do better. Sometimes I’ve just gotta throw it away or try to get 2 or 3 yards.”
This is such a tough lesson for a young, talented quarterback who earned four stars and a Power 5 scholarship in high school by extending and making plays. It’s what he knows. It’s who he is.
“I’m always going to be competitive,” Sanders said. “Nobody’s ever going to take that away from me.”
Nobody should. Coaches love kids who are athletic, but they live for those who are competitive and accountable. Sanders gets high marks across the board here.
It’s why Mike Gundy plans to stick with the 19-year-old redshirt freshman, growing pains and all.
Asked Saturday if he would consider starting backup Dru Brown at Iowa State next week, Gundy said: “That’s not something we’ve thought about.”
Maybe Brown, the more experienced quarterback, would be a safer choice. But could he make enough plays to help Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace spark the offense? You saw the holes in OSU’s defense again Saturday. This team goes as far as its attack takes it.
Would benching Sanders undercut the youngster’s confidence? Threaten to stunt his development?
“He played his tail off,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sean Gleeson said. “The kid’s got bumps and bruises all over his body. He’s playing super hard. He’s doing a lot of great things for us. We’re going to keep building on that.”
Said Gundy: “For three quarters, other than the one underthrow (resulting in the interception), he was pretty sound in what he was doing. His thought process in distributing the ball … he did a better job distributing it and got some other guys involved.”
The hard part here is nobody can overlook the fourth quarter. In particular, nobody can overlook the play where Sanders had the ball poked free by Baylor defensive lineman Chidi Ogbannaya, Bears cornerback Terrell Bernard turned the fumble into a 20-yard touchdown return and OSU’s 31-27 deficit became 38-27 with eight minutes remaining.
“I’ve just got to keep two hands on the ball and keep it secure,” Sanders said.
He knows that. Youth isn’t an excuse, as Sanders himself realizes, saying: “A lot of people are like, ‘He’s a freshman.’ Nah. You can’t say that anymore. It’s my fault. I’ve gotta fix it.”
He’s the only one who can do that. Gundy and Gleeson can talk about drilling ball security in practice, can even try to game-plan to promote it, but this is ultimately on the player.
And if everyone makes this too psychological, if they hammer away at thought processes and try to completely rewire a player over halfway through a season. ...
Well, let Gleeson tell you: “No. Psychological battles are made by people who want to overthink things. We have a competitive kid at quarterback. He’s not going to overthink anything.”
So we’re back to Sanders playing through it, a kid who means well and wants so badly to do well, playing through the most trying stretch of his young career.