STILLWATER, Okla. – J.W. Walsh is done playing for Oklahoma State this season. His inspiring final performance could have a lasting impact, though.
Walsh played the final 3½ quarters of the Cowboys' 31-10 win against Iowa State last weekend with an injured knee, running for a touchdown, maneuvering past defenders and throwing for a career-best 415 yards despite being hurt. When his teammates arrived the next day to find him on crutches and out for the season because of the injury he'd been playing through, coach Mike Gundy made sure to recognize his sacrifice.
"In order for our organization, our team, to continue to get better, the overall concept has to be unselfish football, the team, and to do whatever it takes within reason," Gundy said. "We've had guys that couldn't compete. ... He wasn't unstable but had an enormous amount of pain. He continued to fight through it, and I made an example of that with the team.
"When you're young, those are things you have to learn. It's the greatest game there is for life lessons because there's pain in our lives at times and we have to fight through it. It may not be all physical. It may be mental."
Walsh was one of three players who were lost for the season during last week's win, along with tight end Justin Horton and C.J. Curry. The Cowboys (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) have had five players suffer season-ending injuries already, and numerous others have missed time, but they still control their Big 12 destiny heading into Saturday's game against TCU (5-2, 2-2).
Gundy held out hope that Wes Lunt, who opened the season as the starting quarterback before his own knee injury thrust Walsh into the role, would be able to return to face the Horned Frogs. If not, it would be third-stringer Clint Chelf who gets the call.
"Whoever gives us the best chance to win," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "Does Clint run with the same fever as J.W.? No. You have decide if you like the way we are moving and is Wes ready? Those are the things we have to determine this week."
TCU has been dealing with its own instability at quarterback, with Trevone Boykin taking over after Casey Pachall was suspended indefinitely following a 4-0 start. Boykin has gone 1-2 as the starter, sandwiching a superb game in a win at Baylor between the program's first consecutive home losses in the same season since 1998.
"We're excited about where we're at. We'd rather not be 2-2, but I think we're seven, eight, maybe nine plays away from being 7-0," coach Gary Patterson said.
A good number of those plays fall into the turnover category. The Frogs have committed eight turnovers in their two losses with Boykin at quarterback, including five interceptions by him. He accounted for five touchdowns with no turnovers in the victory at Baylor.
"He's doing a fantastic job. It doesn't matter if he's a freshman or a senior, if he's played one game or 20 games. He's got to step up and make plays, and he's done a great job doing that," guard Eric Tausch said. "You couldn't ask for a better job than what he's done."
The Cowboys had been tinkering with their offense to tailor it more toward Walsh's running ability instead of Lunt's tendency to be a drop-back passer. Now, it could be a reversal if Lunt's able to return or less so if Chelf gets his first career start after backing up Brandon Weeden the past two seasons.
"We're concerned about it because you can't have so many plays you're not good at any of them," Gundy said. "They're two different styles of players, but we have to have enough of both based on who we feel like ... gives us the best chance of success."
Lunt returned to practice a couple weeks ago and Gundy has said he was able to play if needed in the previous two games. Even with the changes so far this season, the Cowboys lead the nation with 605 yards per game — 23 more than any other team.
"This week, whether we move the ball or not, it won't be because of Wes Lunt or Clint Chelf," Monken said. "Those guys are good enough for us to move the ball and score points."