I shouldn’t have to be typing this right now but here we are. An underwhelming passing attack for Oklahoma State against Boise State on Saturday night left some fans clamoring for backup quarterback Shane Illingworth, and others for third-stringer Gunnar Gundy. This follows Sanders’ first start of the year against Tulsa in which he completed 15 of his 28 passes for 173 yards and two scores to one interception. It was a hard-fought 28-23 win for Oklahoma State and the student section voiced displeasure for Sanders at times throughout the game.
Sanders followed up that performance by completing six of his 13 passing attempts for 82 yards in a one-point win at Boise State. The numbers don’t look great for Sanders so far this season. At the same time, Illingworth’s completed just 22 of his 40 attempts for 315 yards, a touchdown, and an interception against an FCS opponent to start the year.
Illingworth also had the luxury of throwing to OSU’s best receiver, Tay Martin, who has missed virtually all of OSU’s last two games with Sanders at quarterback. Martin caught six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the season opener and hasn’t played, aside from the first few snaps of the Tulsa game, since.
As for Sanders’ performance against Boise State- he wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed. The Cowboys traveled to Idaho without Martin, Braydon Johnson or Jaden Bray. Bryson Green injured his hand during the game. Blaine Green and Langston Anderson were both still out with injuries as well. That left Sanders with redshirt freshman Rashod Owens, sophomore Brennan Presley, and freshman walk-on Cale Cabbiness. Sanders also completed a pass to running backs L.D. Brown and Dominic Richardson.
Presley, Owens, and Cabbiness are all talented players, but they all lack experience. Believe it or not, experience is rather important when playing a team that is 126-10 in its last 136 home games. The offensive line also struggled to pass block, though they deserve credit for run blocking much better this week. Half of Sanders’ passing attempts were on play-action because he didn’t often have a clean pocket to throw from.
On top of all of that, Sanders is the only experienced quarterback on Oklahoma State’s roster. That seems important on the road with the least possible experienced receiving corps OSU could have to work with. It may not seem like it, but Illingworth has only started three games for Oklahoma State, and Gundy’s last game came in the blue and gold for Stillwater High School.
I am all for making a change when one needs to be made, but Sanders isn’t the player who needs to be replaced. The first player to get credit when things go well is the quarterback, but he is also the first to receive the blame when things go poorly. In this case, Sanders has been dealt a tough hand with a struggling offensive line and the youngest receiving corps OSU has had in recent memory. Sanders is not to blame for the disappointing production from the Oklahoma State offense so far. The offensive line has to get better, and as coach Gundy has said, so does the offensive play calling.
Just because the offense is struggling doesn’t mean it would improve at all under Illingworth or Gundy. We saw that in Bedlam last year. The best-case scenario involves the receivers getting healthy, the young receivers growing up fast and continuing to make plays, and the offensive line improving with each game. So please, no more “we want Shane” or “F Spencer Sanders” chants from the student section. No more “replace QB1” tweets on Twitter. It’s not the right move, it’s embarrassing, and it accomplishes nothing.