There’s no panic button being pressed by Mike Gundy or Spencer Sanders.
Though Oklahoma State’s redshirt freshman quarterback has had a historically bad four-game span, the coach and QB aren’t stressing out about the ball security issues for the signal caller for the Cowboys.
“To play quarterback at any level, you have to have good ball security in the pocket. We worked hard on it for two weeks and he was better,” Gundy said during Monday’s weekly press conference. “He put one on the ground in the fourth and they picked it up for a touchdown, made it look worse. If they recovered it and just get on the ball and we hold them to a field goal, then it’s different.
“That’s his responsibility, he knows that and he understands that. We will continue to work and get him better.”
Sanders turned the ball over three times in Saturday’s game against Baylor – the most costly being a fumble in the pocket while Sanders was attempting to extend the play, and it resulted in a 20-point scoop and score for the Bears’ defense to make it an 11-point game with eight minutes remaining. He has accounted for 12 turnovers in his first four Big 12 Conference games, while only scoring five touchdowns in those games – in which the Cowboys have lost three of the four games.
“I’ve got to fix turning over the ball,” Sanders said after Saturday’s game. “It’s on me. … I’m always going to be competitive, nobody’s ever going to take that away from me. No matter what you say about me, or if I have a bad game or some turnovers, if I’m trying to do the best I can for the game, I’m not going to be upset.
“My mom told me to never give up, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give it my best. I’m just trying to do the best I can for this team.”
The minus-7 for Sanders matches the worst touchdown to turnover margin over a four-game span for any quarterback in the Gundy era. In 2014, Daxx Garman had a four-game stretch – against Kansas, TCU, West Virginia and Kansas State – in which he scored two touchdowns and turned the ball over nine times. The Cowboys also went 1-3 in those games, just as OSU has with Sanders.
That was part of a span of six games in which Garman scored four touchdowns while turning the ball over 13 times.
To avoid a similar lopsided margin, Sanders will need to clean things up against an Iowa State defense that has forced 10 fumbles – recovering five – and intercepting a conference-low three passes. Over the past five games, OSU’s quarterback has seven touchdowns while turning the ball over 14 times – with nine interceptions, which is the most among Big 12 quarterbacks.
“At any level, you have to have good ball security in the pocket, period,” Gundy said. “You see some quarterbacks get away with it. But watch the guys that are veterans who have hung around and played forever and been successful … watch (Tom) Brady, watch (Drew) Brees, watch (Aaron) Rodgers, watch Russel Wilson. Those guys have good ball security in the pocket.
“There’s a lot going on for a quarterback and as soon as you start (moving your arms around), you’re asking for it. You might get away with it, but you’re asking for it.”
While Gundy has defended his first-year quarterback at times for the lack of experience – pointing out how he didn’t really grasp college football until into his second year playing at Oklahoma State – his current quarterback isn’t allowing that to be an excuse.
“I can’t blame it on being young, that’s just not an excuse,” Sanders said. “I know a lot of people say, ‘he’s a freshman.’ But you can’t say that any more. It’s my fault, I’ve got to fix it.”
Gundy said fixing it was a focal point during the team’s two weeks following his five-turnover game at Texas Tech, and that Sanders “looked better” in Saturday’s game against the Bears. But clearly there is still some work to be done with the Denton, Texas, native.
“We’ll do drill work, where they’re out there every day for 10 minutes and they are moving around in the pocket and you’ve got guys – young coaches in our program – get a dummy and they are slapping him with a dummy, and he’s got to control the ball,” Gundy said. “They are hitting him from behind, hitting him in the front, he’s got to squeeze that ball. … You do anything else, it becomes short-lived.”
Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State football and other Cowboy athletics.