J.W. Walsh is determined to bounce back from his first real dose of adversity this year.
The fate of No. 21 Oklahoma State's season just might depend on it.
After winning the starting quarterback job with an outstanding performance in the Cowboys' season-opening 21-3 victory over Mississippi State, Walsh enjoyed a near-perfect outing Sept. 7 in a 56-35 win over UTSA. For completing 24 of 27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns, Walsh earned Big 12 offensive player of the week honors.
The sophomore has since proved to be a mere mortal, particularly during a 30-21 loss at West Virginia last week, when he completed just 20 of 47 passes with two interceptions, along with 322 yards and three touchdowns.
So which Walsh will show up this Saturday when Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 in Big 12) hosts defending conference champion Kansas State (2-2, 0-1)?
Walsh acknowledged that he had multiple areas in which to improve.
"You got to be better throwing the football, you got to be better sitting in the pocket with my footwork and being more accurate throwing the ball," said Walsh, who also gained 52 yards on 16 rushes Saturday. "I wasn't very good and there's a lot to correct."
While coach Mike Gundy agreed that Walsh wasn't as effective as he had been earlier in the year, he noted that there were other problems with the offense.
"The last couple of games, J.W.'s been average throwing the ball," Gundy said. "And there have been times we haven't blocked as well. And I think in our offense, the way we function, we have to have balance. There's just been a combination of certain things that have given us some issues in that part of the game."
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich echoed those sentiments.
"I think when J.'s good, he's in rhythm and he's throwing it accurately, and the receivers are running good routes and the pass protection's solid," Yurcich said. "Everything comes into factor. It's not just about one guy, it's a team game and all that responsibility is shared."
Walsh has been especially criticized for his audible in the fourth quarter, on second-and-goal from inside the 1-yard-line, with Oklahoma State trailing 24-21. Instead of handing the ball off to running back Jeremy Smith, Walsh opted to throw a fade pass to receiver Tracy Moore in the end zone, but overthrew him for an incomplete.
After the next running play was denied, freshman kicker Ben Grogan missed a field-goal attempt and the Cowboys were shut out the rest of the way.
"He did it on his own and I was as surprised as everybody else watching when he did it, and why players sometimes do that, I don't know," Gundy said. "It's like telling your kid to brush his teeth and then you find out a week later, he still hasn't brushed his teeth. The bottom line is this: the ball's on the two-inch line, I prefer to run it. That's what we told him."
Walsh defended his choice but agreed he should have just followed the directions of the coaching staff.
"It was just one-on-one with a guy who had been playing good, who's a playmaker for us and is a big body, we trust him in that situation," Walsh said of Moore, who wound up with five receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown on the day. "But at the same time, you got to know the play called, you got to know the situation and I can't just dial up what I want to dial up, especially on the half-inch line. If coach calls a run, I just have to hand the ball off and trust those running backs."
Now, Walsh wants to prove that the West Virginia loss was just an aberration.
"We're anxious to get back on the field and start playing again," said Walsh, whose eight TD passes tie him for the Big 12 lead. "We want to get the taste out of our mouths and move forward... Last week wasn't really us, we don't usually make that many mistakes."