STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Although he is considered a backup, senior quarterback J.W. Walsh has still been a major contributor to No. 14 Oklahoma State's success so far this season - both in red zone situations and as a leader and mentor.
Mason Rudolph is the starter, winning the job over Walsh last spring, but Walsh has excelled in limited action, helping the Cowboys (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) score on 28 of 29 trips inside the 20-yard line, ranking third in the nation in red zone efficiency.
''J.W. is a big part of our offense and a big part of our football team,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ''We need to expand his role as much as possible. It's not as easy as what people think, but he has success when he's in there.''
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OSU comes off its bye week and prepares to face Kansas (0-6, 0-3) at home on Saturday, and Walsh will likely have an impact in the most crucial situations once again. He was a major reason that Oklahoma State emerged from its last outing on Oct. 10 with a win.
Walsh scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run, on fourth down in overtime, to lift the Cowboys to a 33-26 victory at West Virginia after they squandered a 17-2 halftime lead. He also threw a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Jarwin earlier in the contest.
Overall on the season, Walsh has completed 9 of 13 passes for 61 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing for 90 yards and three scores on 21 carries - with almost all of his snaps coming in the red zone. He has accounted for at least one touchdown in every game.
''I wish he could do more because he deserves to be in there more, and he's good for our offense,'' Gundy said. ''(But) I don't want to be disruptive with the flow that Mason has in the game. And I'm not sure I have the answer for that. But he's played very well and we've been very successful when he's been in there.''
Perhaps even more valuable for the Cowboys, though, has been Walsh's leadership. As a fifth-year senior who started 10 games over the previous three seasons, fashioning a 7-3 record, his team-first attitude sets a positive example that commands instant respect in the locker room, and his enthusiasm on the sidelines is a constant source of inspiration to his teammates.
''He's a leader for us,'' Rudolph said. ''He's a veteran guy, he's been around here for a while, he knows how it works, he knows what it takes to win games, and he provides leadership for not only the offense, but the entire team.''
Additionally, Walsh, also known as ''J-Dub,'' has served as a mentor to Rudolph, a sophomore who is still learning lessons on a weekly basis.
''J-Dub's a great guy,'' said Rudolph, who threw a career-high three interceptions against West Virginia, although he also ranks 16th in the nation with 1,892 passing yards this season. ''He's got a lot of experience, playing in the different atmospheres that I've played in this year, so he's just got the experience factor, and he's able to kind of shoot me some knowledge and some help in different situations.''
That Walsh has been so supportive to the guy that took his job, in his final year of college football, demonstrates impressive character.
''He's an unbelievable person,'' offensive lineman Zach Crabtree said. ''He's a winner, and will do anything, at all costs, to win a game. J.W. doesn't care if he's touching the ball, if he's not touching the ball, if he's getting plays, if he's not getting plays.
''At the end of the day, he wants to win football games. Not to speak for him, but that's just what he sells to us as an offense, `I'll do whatever it takes to win.' He's a great leader.''
The AP's college football page: www.collegefootball.ap.org