Spencer Sanders

Tulsa linebacker Yohance Burnett (right) gets in position to try to tackle Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders in the open field Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders lined up in the shotgun formation and took a few steps back before turning the corner and breaking free for a 27-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ 40-21 win at Tulsa on Saturday.

That play was a testament to how the TU defense forced Sanders to mature and make adjustments on the field. Sanders dissected the Oregon State and McNeese State defenses pretty well in his first two games, but TU forced him to work through some tough moments.

Finding a way to break free for his first rushing touchdown of the season against the TU blitz was one of those moments. OSU coach Mike Gundy said Tulsa brought a house blitz a few times before that play, and the Cowboys were unsuccessful. Sanders recognized it in the third quarter and took off for a TD.

“That’s what he should do,” Gundy said. “He kind of learned and settled down.”

Chuba Hubbard gave the Cowboys offense a strong start by scoring in the first 10 seconds on a 75-yard sprint to the end zone, followed by a 30-yard TD run on the second drive. OSU opened the game by scoring 17 consecutive points before the TU defense started giving the Cowboys some trouble.

Sanders threw the first interception of his career with 3:46 left in the first quarter to give the ball back to the Golden Hurricane immediately following Keylon Stokes’ 39-yard TD reception from Zach Smith. The Cowboys only scored three more points — on a Matt Ammendola field goal — the rest of the first half after the Sanders interception.

This is arguably the best defense TU has had since 2012, and it is the best defense OSU has seen all season. The Cowboys were 5-of-14 on third downs after converting on 72% in the previous two games.

Hubbard had another career day with 256 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t that easy for Sanders. TU was a solid test for him heading into Big 12 Conference play, which starts at No. 12 Texas next week.

Sanders completed 12-of-22 passes for 169 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He rushed for 59 yards and a TD.

The Golden Hurricane threw a few looks at Sanders that forced him to adjust. Gundy said he was pleased with the way Sanders worked through his frustration throughout the game.

“When you’re young (and) playing and you’re competitive like (he is), you want success all the time and sometimes it doesn’t work, especially versus a defense that we played today,” Gundy said. “It’s very high-risk, big or not much at all, so that frustrated him. But he calmed down and those things will help him as we go along.”

Every game won’t be pretty for Sanders as the season goes along, but the Cowboys are going to need him to find a way to help them win ball games. He did that Saturday. It also helps that he has weapons like Hubbard, who can go the distance at any moment. Receiver Tylan Wallace, who finished with five catches for 118 yards and a TD, also will continue to make it easier for Sanders.

Although Sanders said he was happy with the win, he wasn’t pleased with his individual play.

“I was frustrated with my play,” Sanders said. “I felt I played very poorly. My team really helped pick me up, but I missed throws that I usually hit. I have to get it right for next weekend. I’m going to do what I can to fix it, help this team and get it right.”

Frank Bonner II

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Frank joined Tulsa World as the Oklahoma State University sports writer in June 2019. He is an Indiana native who attended graduate school at IUPUI after receiving his bachelor’s degree at Indiana University. 918-581-8387