CORVALLIS, Ore. — The inkling is to get all worked up over Spencer Sanders. I see it. The kid was terrific here Friday night. He made plays. More important, he played poised.
You want to ask Mike Gundy: About that preseason too-close-to-call race between Sanders and Dru Brown… Seriously, dude?
“We made that decision (on a starter) three or four days ago,” Gundy offered after Oklahoma State’s 52-36 win at Oregon State.
“I can’t emphasize enough how close this race was,” offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson maintained as Friday night became Saturday morning.
Both coaches said the plan was to start Sanders and see what happened. The redshirt freshman was marvelous, and so Brown was banished to mop-up duty.
Sanders probably will be marvelous again next Saturday against McNeese State, and then a few more times this season.
It’s just that we’re working on a one-game sample size, and I’d like to see Sanders in three or four more games, preferably against a defense stronger than Oregon State’s crepe paper outfit. The youngster drips with promise, but let’s watch him try to deliver on it a few more times before declaring he is already there.
Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace? Both are already there. That’s the surest thing from the Cowboys’ opener, the biggest takeaway as it relates to the rest of OSU’s season.
Hubbard ran as if he was offended by something. He barreled into the Beavers one play, sprinted away from them the next. He ran assertively in place of injured Justice Hill down the stretch of 2018, but this was something entirely different.
If Hubbard doesn’t get hurt or tired, he should become Gundy’s most productive back since Kendall Hunter. Easily.
If Wallace doesn’t get hurt or bored — he made moments in Friday’s game look absurdly easy — he’ll be more productive than he was last year when he should have won the Biletnikoff Award. He’ll correct that mistake in December.
For the sake of OSU’s December, of bowl season and the potential for a January game, Hubbard’s development and Wallace’s dominance cannot be understated.
Contending in the Big 12 Conference means contending with Oklahoma. As long as Lincoln Riley coaches the Sooners, that means matching Riley’s offense.
Hubbard and Wallace, healthy and motivated, allow OSU that opportunity. They are a poisonous combination for a defense that must choose to go hard at one, thereby exposing itself to the other.
There’s a mental factor at work as well, and it relates to Sanders.
The quarterback said in post-game that Hubbard stuck with him in the hours leading up to his debut.
“He kept talking to me and getting my mind right,” Sanders said.
And Hubbard’s and Wallace’s gametime playmaking?
“They helped calm me down a lot,” Sanders said.
“No doubt,” Gundy said. “It’s reassurance (Sanders) doesn’t have to do it all alone.”
Sanders is the wild card here. If he continues his trajectory begun at Oregon State, the Cowboys have themselves triplets worthy of Gundy-Sanders-Dykes and Weeden-Randle-Blackmon. Gundy will have his best team since the Weeden-Randle-Blackmon national threat of 2011.
More likely, Sanders will wobble now and then. He’ll force a throw to a double-covered Wallace, or keep the ball when he should have handed to Hubbard. He is one game into his college career, after all. There are growing pains the most talented freshmen have endured.
That’s when Wallace and Hubbard, older and more consistent players, will remind us of their value to their young teammate, and to their team. They will be there in case Sanders falters. They will keep the Cowboys’ beat.
It was awfully loud late Friday night in Corvallis, and that wasn’t just due to OSU’s zestful young quarterback. He had a lot of help from two teammates in particular, just as he will again.