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Don’t Bury Spencer Sanders

A comp with the last three Heisman winners.

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A quote. Two quotes.

“We did some things that were uncharacteristic of us. If we take away one of those interceptions and instead we score it may be different game. We ran the ball fairly effectively, particularly in the third quarter when we drove the ball down the field, but time and the score became a factor in executing that part of the game plan which puts pressure on your quarterback. We’ve got to examine where we are and what we’re doing. Give credit to [them], they did a good job.”

“He kept his composure throughout the game. He never seemed rattled.”

Mike Gundy and Chuba Hubbard on Spencer Sanders after throwing three interceptions in OSU’s 45-35 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday? No, that would be Kevin Sumlin and Tra Carson on Kyler Murray after throwing three interceptions in Texas A&M’s 26-10 loss to Auburn in November 2015.

Not everyone is Trevor Lawrence. Nobody is Trevor Lawrence except for Trevor Lawrence. Baker Mayfield threw eight picks in his first five Big 12 games as a freshman. He gets TCU at home on a Thursday in his first conference game, misses 19 throws and has three INTs. This is how it goes. Lamar Jackson completes 15 passes at home against Boston College his freshman year with two picks and 1.1 yards per carry.

We don’t remember that this is how it goes because it’s easier to think about the finished product. But this is how it goes.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Spencer Sanders. His progression as a QB has (at best!) been choppy, and not at all linear in the direction you would like to see it go. But again, this is normal. This is how it progresses with nearly all freshmen QBs, even ones that go on to big ceremonial dinners in New York in December. It’s up and then it’s down and then it’s way down and then it’s up again. It’s an emotional roller coaster we’re ill-prepared to ride.

Again, there are red flags with 3. He keys in on one receiver. Even then, his throws have been erratic. His running has been dangerous. He seems to thrive on flirting with disaster. Maybe all of this changes, maybe it’s just who he is. We have no idea. Based on the data we have in both recent and long-term history, there is no way to tell how this all ends up. That’s the only thing we know.

Here are your last three Heisman winners (Mayfield, Murray and Jackson) in their combined freshman seasons against what Sanders has done so far this year.

Heismans Sanders
Percentage 60% 63%
YPG 173 222
TD:INT 1.21 (29-24) 1.25 (10-8)
Rush YPG 53 71

Sanders is clearly talented. Probably mega-talented. I know what I watched against Texas a few weeks ago. The throw to Braydon Johnson. The near-TD dash at the end that had Herbie reaching for oxygen. You can keep tossing your J.W. Walsh and Bobby Reid comps around the internet, but it belies the slivers we’ve all seen.

You can do what you want with this information. Make it look however you choose to make it look. It’s no surprise that I’m captaining the ship whether it sinks to the cavernous floor of the ocean or arrives in port to the popping of champagne corks. Such is life when you’ve written the things I’ve written.

All I’m saying right now is that most of the greats you point to — OSU players included — had their Texas Tech Game at some point over the course of the first 10 games of their career. Even Mason Rudolph — who we remember as one of the least-turnover prone QBs in OSU history — turned it over as much as Sanders has early on in his career (11 picks in his first nine games).

So feel free to ride it out or eject as quickly as possibly. That’s your prerogative and part of the reason being a fan is fun. I’m just the distributor of the information and the statistics. And the question for me with Sanders has become not whether he has the arm or the legs or the moxie or the tools to be great on a conference and national level — again, let’s not act like some of the stuff that’s happened didn’t actually happen — no, the question for me is whether he can settle in and make everything start working in the proper direction one game at a time.

Following disaster against Auburn his freshman year, Kyler Murray began a Heisman campaign just three college starts (and a few years) later. It took a lot of time and a lot of growth, but when it clicked, it clicked. I’m not saying Sanders is going to do what Kyler did in Norman last season, but I am saying that based on what we’ve watched so far this year, I’d at least like him to have that chance.

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