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Mike Gundy on Spencer Sanders’ Toughness, Leadership: It ‘Makes My Job Easy’

According to Sanders, he was just doing his job.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

There are glamorous quarterbacks with flowing locks, tons of NIL dollars, and even more hype, and then there are gritty leaders who bring their lunch pale to work every day. If you’re unsure which camp Spencer Sanders falls into, you haven’t been paying attention.

Led by Sanders, Oklahoma State clawed back from a 14-point second-half deficit to defeat Texas on Saturday, winning 41-34. The Cowboys are 6-1 and control their own travel arrangements for a return to Arlington this December, and they can credit a fair amount of that to Sanders’ toughness, leadership and grit.

Sanders was banged up on Saturday, and so was his receiving corps, and so was his offensive line. But he went to work, routinely hanging in the pocket and delivering the dart to convert a key third down, or leaving it to move the chains with his legs.

“It’s not really about being tough out here,” said Sanders. “It’s about doing everything I can. Holding myself accountable to do my job. So really [I’m] not being tough, I’m doing my job. It’s my job to play quarterback. It’s my job to be tough. You know, when you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up.”

And Sanders has been knocked down a lot lately. OSU’s offensive line was tabbed as being deeper this season but, especially in the interior, the Cowboys’ front has been beaten up. Sanders was sacked twice against Texas and nine UT defenders logged a QB hurry. It was the fifth-straight game that a defense has logged multiple sacks on a quarterback that is really hard to tackle.

If your best players are your toughest players, and most competitive, coaches don’t have to do much.

The thing about gritty performances is that they’re rarely pretty. Sanders flirted with a 60% pass completion outing against Texas, landing at 59.6%. That followed up consecutive outings below the 50% mark, but we know that his health has been nowhere near the 100% mark over the last couple of weeks. There were also a handful of throws on Saturday that, had UT defenders got a better hand on them, could have been interceptions.

“Yeah, he’s feeling better,” said Mike Gundy of Sanders after the game. “He’s not where he was. I mean, you can tell. I mean, it’s obvious. You guys watch him, but he’s doing better. We are very fortunate that he didn’t take a direct shot down there in Fort Worth.”

Sanders took two hard hits on slides, one saw his helmet bounce off of the turf, but he kept fighting. He dove onto a fumble by Dominic Richardson to avoid disaster. He did it again by saving a high snap that went over his head. Had he not secured it and then juked a defender, the ball would have almost certainly landed in OSU’s end zone and it probably would have been six points for the Longhorns.

Although it might sound cliché, you can’t measure Sanders’ value to OSU with percentage points. It was those timely plays and that leadership and toughness that allowed OSU to chip away at the Longhorns’ lead and then, ultimately, to complete the comeback.

“When your quarterback is a very competitive player who’s willing to give his body up, playing injured, never says a word, never complains — he just keeps playing,” said Gundy. “Then that makes my job easy. If your best players are your toughest players, and most competitive, coaches don’t have to do much. That’s what you get from him.”

But Sanders has some numbers that anyone can get behind. Namely, he racks up yards and points. Sanders leads the Big 12 in passing, and he’s first in the league in total offense, averaging just over 340 yards per game. He’s seventh in the FBS in individual scoring, being responsible for 20 points per game.

“MVP, right?” said Cowboys OC Kasey Dunn. “He’s playing his ass off right now. Super competitive. Love everything he’s doing. He’s fighting through practice. There’s no question he’s banged up, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but he finished that thing. And he finished it with a flurry. Is he tired? He’s exhausted. But he’ll be ready to go.”

The next stop on the Road to Arlington is in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon when OSU faces No. 22 Kansas State.

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