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The Rundown: Gundy on Illingworth, Sanders’ Health and Defense

Everything Mike Gundy said ahead of OSU’s game against West Virginia.

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[Photo via Peter Casey, USA Today]

Mike Gundy was calm, cool and collected at his Monday news conference with his team 1-0.

Saturday wasn’t as easy as anticipated for Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys are in a better spot than say Iowa State or Kansas State after a Game 1 scare. Gundy had a lot to touch on at his presser, and here are all of his talking points.

Opening Statement

“We finished up Tulsa, and obviously now getting into West Virginia, had a good work out last night, day off today.”

On Spencer Sanders’ Injury

“We booted him up. We’ll take it off on Tuesday and then put him out there Wednesday and go from there.”

On if Shane Illingworth would play if Sanders couldn’t

“Well, we haven’t got that far yet. We’ve got three guys available. We’ll have to make that decision based on practice reps. Good news is we don’t have to practice until Tuesday, so we’ll figure that out on Tuesday afternoon.”

On Shane Illingworth’s demeanor when on the field Saturday

“I thought he was composed and executed very well. I don’t know that we could’ve asked him to do more than what he did, so we were pleased with his play.”

On Illingworth’s mindfulness to throw the ball away

“Yeah, it’s OK to throw it away and play another down, obviously, instead of taking a loss or forcing it into coverage. For the most part, the situation he was in, he played well.”

On Josh Sills

“Josh has been really good for us. He’s come in and competed. Took him quite a while to get back in shape. He was off, then the virus hit and he went back home and, I think, hunted for three months and then came back and had to get in shape again.

“But he’s been good for us. He likes to play football. He’s a good leader, a great person, so we’re certainly glad that he’s on our team.”

On the difficulties of choosing a backup quarterback when you haven’t seen them practice all that much

“It’s extremely difficult. It’s become the hardest part of offensive football for a head coach, in my opinion, in that they don’t get as many reps as they should get. Sadly enough, I was thinking about that a few months ago in that there can be good quarterbacks that really never show up because they don’t get enough practice or work with the ones. For example, Joe Burrow. That can happen at times just based on the way things fall, who the starter should be, who the backup should be. The toughest part for a quarterback is to be the number two guy in spring practice because it’s difficult to work with the twos when the offense is generally a littler further ahead than the defense.”

On if he learned more about Ethan Bullock and Shane Illingworth on Saturday than he has in practice

“That’s true. I’d say 75 percent of the time you can tell in practice, but it’s not always that way. Sometimes you find out more in a game. There’s so much more to being a quarterback. You can look good in practice and throw good, but the savvy, your ability to handle the pressure, composure, your willingness to throw a ball away, just different things. A lot of times you can’t see that in practice. You see it in games, and that’s what I was referring to that sometimes we don’t find out about quarterbacks until it’s too late.

“We didn’t know what we had in Brandon Weeden until he got in and started playing two or three games. He looked good in practice and all that, and then there’s times he would do things that would make you scratch your head. Then he got in games, and we were like, ‘Why was this guy not playing earlier?’ You find out about quarterbacks sometimes a lot later than you should.”

On if coaches are more alert for injuries this season without the summer conditioning

“We’ve been concerned from Day 1. I had Doc [Val Gene] Iven come and talk to the team again last night after practice for a variety of things. We continue to talk about protection from the virus, the different protocol that’s been put into place by the Big 12 just last week, all the different areas of concerns. We’ve gone into extensive measures to try to protect the cardio part of recovery from the virus.

“We were not in very good shape Saturday. We’ve had a lot of practices, but they’ve not been consistent practices with our team like they have been last year.

“When we went to Oregon State last year, we were running on all cylinders, and we were a machine when it came to our cardio. We were pretty average in this last game just because of a variety of reasons. Myself and Coach [Rob] Glass had great concerns about that, but we also had concerns about pushing guys too much in practice because of what’s happened with the virus.”

On confidence of the team heading into the West Virginia game

“I feel good about the confidence in our team. We’ve been very fortunate. We have a lot of depth and maturity on defense. Depending on where we’re at with Spencer, as I said, we’ll know a lot more Tuesday. We’ve had guys in his situation with a mild injury come out of the boot and do well and play, and then we’ve had guys that weren’t able to play.

“The old coaches saying that the next guy’s got to step up and play. That’s really what has to happen here. We put another guy in, he gets the reps. What we try to do is make sure we give the guy reps who’s gonna play in the game. All coaches do that. Sometimes it’s not always easy, but we have to make that determination by Wednesday.”

On the offensive line after watching the film

“We were below average based on musical chairs. It’s extremely difficult. You can call it like you want, but when you move people around that much, the continuity is difficult. So hopefully we can get set in what we need and guys can get quality reps this week and have them where we want them based on where we thinks it gives us to have the best chance for success. But when you have six different people moving multiple spots in a game, you’re not gonna have as much continuity and consistency as you’d want. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just gotta try to fit guys in and go play and try to find a way to win the game.”

On Cole Birmingham’s status

“We’ll find out on him. His was a little more serious. We’ll know about all of them because they all get put in boots, but his was more than what the quarterback’s was.”

On the electronic whistles

“I never heard one. You know they don’t blow whistles in the game, you know that? The only time that officials, I didn’t realize this until about 12 years ago, the only time officials blow whistles in a game is when they’re trying to stop the game, stop the clock, or the end of a quarter, or a timeout or something. But just in the flow of a game, which is the majority of the game, they don’t ever blow whistles to end a play.

“I never heard one electronic whistle. … Hopefully both teams understand when to stop and when not to stop. I forgot they had electronic whistles until you brought it up. I never heard a whistle.”

On the balance of pushing guys in practice while keeping them fresh

“We’re gonna have to push them. We had that discussion yesterday, obviously myself and Coach Glass. We have to push them now. We’re healthy. We’ve had discussions with our medical team. We had discussions with Doc Iven, our team physician, about where we’re at. We feel good about the cardio and the health of the guys that are on our football team because we’ve been very fortunate with the virus, so we have to begin to push them now. We’ve gotta get in better shape. We’ll push them now more than we have the last three weeks.”

On how long he thinks it will take to get the team in expected shape

“Gosh, we were probably 75 percent Saturday. Hopefully we can be at 85 percent and then maybe the next week 95 or better.”

On Zoom

“I’ll be honest with you, I am not a big Zoom guy. These Zooms drive me crazy. It’s like game day. They had me try and listen to a speaker when the young lady was talking to me. I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t hear anything. It was a mess. It is what it is.”

On what he remembers about Thurman Thomas

“The thing I remember most about him was, and I’ve said this a lot, was his willingness to practice. I mean, he was the best practice player. Him and [Barry] Sanders, well really all these guys, [Justin] Blackmon, Hart Lee Dykes, Sanders, all those guys were tremendous practice players.

“Thurman practiced full speed every day. Blocking drills, running, it didn’t make any difference. Then in games, when he was in pass protection, he would step up and hit a defensive end or a linebacker right square in the mouth. He was aggressive. He wasn’t scared. I remember him even more for that than I do his ability to run the football. That’s why he was so successful in the NFL. He was in that fastbreak offense there with Buffalo with Jim Kelly and the gang because he was a tremendous pass protector and a good receiver, and then obviously he could rush when he needed to.

“His ability to practice extremely hard and lead the way is what I remember of him as a player.”

On Thomas’ legacy to the program

He’s obviously an NFL Hall of Famer. There’s only so many of those guys walking around. He tears his knee up in the spring before the season playing basketball, and then comes back with a brace and plays on it and continues to practice hard.

“I go back to, if the young people that played the game today understood watching him practice, they would be much different in their approach to the game. He never protected himself at all when he practiced. He went 100 percent all the time.

“That’s really what his legacy is around here. Then obviously, he’s an NFL Hall of Famer.”

On how big this week of preparation will be for the offensive line

“It’s important for everybody. We didn’t play very good. We need to improve. Hopefully we can improve much more in the second game than where we were at in the first game. We played average at best, and honestly, probably below average.

“We have to be smart with our schemes and concepts, gotta get guys in the right spot before we start practice on Tuesday, can’t play musical chairs, and hopefully we can keep them healthy and play. Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice is very important. We’ve gotta get a lot of reps because we’ve got some new guys in there.

“[Charlie Dickey] is a very good football coach. He’s a great person. He’s a good motivator. He’s got the most difficult job. He’s coaching five guys that, in most cases, play every play of the game on offense, everybody else other than the quarterback rotates. So, they get tired. They’re 300 pounds. They’ve gotta see multiple looks. They gotta use a lot of strength and energy on every play. So he has a difficult job. Being an offensive line coach is extremely difficult, but he’s experienced. He’s a very good technician. He’s a good person. And he’s a good motivator.”

On if he is relieved that the defense lived up to its expectations Saturday

“To be honest with you, as the game got going on in the latter part of the second quarter and the third, I was trying to think of the last time or one of the last few times that we’ve gone without scoring a touchdown was crossing my mind. And I also was thinking how nice it was that I felt very comfortable in the game because we were stopping them.

“Everybody that’s on this Zoom call knows that in Big 12 play, that’s not what’s happened over the last 10 years. Everybody’s held their breath to see who gets the ball last, so whoever gets the ball last scores and the game’s over.

“I felt more comfortable in this game than I have in a number of years because I felt like we were stoning them on defense. And I figured at some point, somebody’s gotta score or hopefully it’s just us.

“There’s not many years and many games that I’ve had that feeling that we can just hold on and sputter around on offense like we did.

“Malcolm Rodriguez was good. Calvin Bundage was good. Tre Sterling was good. Trace Ford was active. Christian [Holmes] played well. Rodarius [Williams] played well. Amen [Ogbongbemiga] played well. We had a number of guys that were really active. I had a talk with them last night after practice that I just appreciated their effort and their willingness to continue to go on the field and stop them when it didn’t look like we could score any points on offense. But also reminded them, ‘Hey, we’ve been on the flipside of this.’ There’s times the offense just kept scoring, and we wondered if we were ever gonna stop anybody on defense. That’s the way it is sometimes.

“If they continue to run around and play with effort like they did, we’ll have a chance in the games that we play just based on their ability to slow people down and run and make tackles.”

On LD Brown

“He was awesome. LD played his best game in all areas. In pass protection, he stepped up and hit people in the face. When he had the chance to rush the football, he ran extremely hard, and he did a really good job with ball security. I told him that. I was thrilled with him. He played better and more aggressive and had more fun in that game than he had in his career here. His [chances] will be increased with that. You run hard, you take care of the football, and you’re willing to pass protect and play hard like he does, you’re gonna get to play in a lot of plays. That’s what he was told after the game, and we’re expecting him to play more in the next game.”

Closing statement

“It was good to get back on the field and play. I thought that the fans were awesome. I wish the president would let another 10,000 in. I actually thought that there were times it was loud out there. I expected it to be a little more quiet, but I thought there was good sound. The players are excited and hopefully we can keep everybody healthy and continue to play football.”

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