There are layers of significance to Tylan Wallace’s potential season-ending knee injury, a development reported by The Oklahoman on Friday in the aftermath of the Oklahoma State star receiver’s knee injury this week.
Let’s start with the OSU receiver’s latest big play last Saturday at Iowa State.
On third-and-2 midway through the first quarter, Wallace caught Spencer Sanders’ bubble pass a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage, used Dillon Stoner’s block to get a first down, then used his own ridiculous blend of speed, power and determination to shake off half the Cyclones’ defense and burn to a 71-yard touchdown.
“About as good a football play I’ve seen in a long time,” OSU coach Mike Gundy called it.
No other Cowboys receiver can mimic Wallace’s ability, or reliability.
Wallace has 53 catches for 903 yards and eight touchdowns. Stoner is next with 25 grabs for 232 yards. Three other OSU receivers have two touchdowns.
That’s a serious gap between Sanders’ favorite target and the rest of his receiving corps. The redshirt freshman quarterback tends to seek out No. 2, as he should. What does he do now that No. 2 is out?
Wallace provides valuable security for the interception-prone Sanders. Who provides that security now that Wallace is sidelined?
Who tag teams with running back Chuba Hubbard?
Not an hour before the Wallace injury rumors started swirling Thursday, I filed a column to the World trumpeting not just the production of the Wallace/Hubbard combination, but the importance.
For production’s sake, Hubbard has rushed for an FBS-leading 1,381 yards for the season. Wallace’s yardage total ranks fourth in FBS and first among Power 5 conference receivers.
Further, Wallace averages 17 yards per catch, consistent with Gundy-era game-breakers dating back to Dez Bryant’s 17-yard average in 2008. Hubbard averages 6.4 yards per carry, the most by an OSU running back since Kendall Hunter averaged 6.5 in ’08.
This is an important benchmark. Gundy turned his program around in ’08 primarily because he had both a runner and a catcher gifted at making plays.
Now we arrive at the importance of the Wallace/Hubbard duo. The two continue a Gundy era lineage.
“We had Dez and Kendall. (Justin) Blackmon and Joe Randle ... (Justice) Hill and (James) Washington,” Gundy said this week. “So we’ve been fortunate to have those guys. And they carry your program.
“Someone asked me this morning about the longevity for coach Patterson and myself ...”
Gundy is in his 15th year at OSU. Gary Patterson is in his 19th at TCU.
“... If you don’t have some of those guys, you’re not going to have longevity,” Gundy continued. “I don’t care how good a coach you are. It’s just hard to hang on. It’s hard to win enough games. We’ve been very fortunate here to have good players on the edge and in the backfield that can make plays.”
So it isn’t just OSU fans who are lucky to watch Hubbard and Wallace perform this season, it is OSU’s coach.
Gundy began the year with a freshman quarterback. He needed an encouraging opener at Oregon State.
Sanders was very good in the Cowboys’ 52-36 victory in Corvallis, but Wallace and Hubbard were spectacular. They made “SportsCenter” plays for three hours.
Gundy needed an encouraging game against Kansas State on Sept. 28, one week after losing at Texas. The defense was very good, but Hubbard and Wallace combined for 441 yards. Hubbard ran for 296 on 25 carries, the kind of display that helps separate this OSU run/catch combo from years past.
“Chuba probably puts it over the edge,” Gundy said. “I’m not taking anything away from Joe or Hill and Kendall and those guys ... his explosiveness probably gives it an extra dimension.”
Hubbard detonated again last week at Iowa State. So did Wallace. The result was a victory Gundy hadn’t needed so badly since Bob Stoops punted twice to Tyreek Hill at 2014 Bedlam.
With Wallace sidelined, can Hubbard shoulder the load by himself?
Will defenses, starting with TCU’s on Saturday, allow that to happen? Won’t they sell out to stop Hubbard and dare Sanders to find another go-to receiver?
Can Sanders do that? Can he steady himself and lift his game?
Can the Cowboys, inconsistent even with Wallace, steady themselves and build on last week’s 34-27 win at Iowa State?
The defense saved that result in the fourth quarter, but, remember, it took Wallace’s highlight and Hubbard’s 65-yard touchdown burst in the first half to give OSU a shot.
The Cowboys need both of their stars to succeed. Now they only have one.