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Three Burning Questions for Oklahoma State’s Quarterback Group in 2020

Who backs up Spencer? How much different could the offense look?



We’ve still got, at best, a long summer before we get to enjoy any actual football. But that shouldn’t (and won’t) stop us from analyzing, scrutinizing and pontificating about our favorite fall pastime in the interim.

So while I’m anticipating one of the most exciting seasons in OSU history, I’ve still got some questions. Here are three nagging themes for the quarterback position that continue to rattle around in my quarantine-fogged head.

1. How Big of a Step (or Leap) Can Spencer Sanders Take?

That’s the question, isn’t it? The one that will go further in determining just how high the Cowboys’ ceiling is than probably any other.

What we saw from the freshman in 2019 was some good, some great and some not so great. But the trajectory he seemed to be on before injury sidelined him in the third act of the 2019 season is inspiring for his (and OSU’s) 2020 prospects.

After coughing it up 14 times in his first seven games (nine INTs and five lost fumbles), Sanders threw just two picks and was able to hold onto the ball for his remaining three outings, plus his brief cameo in the Texas Bowl.

Some of that statistical improvement was no doubt due to OSU scaling back the playbook and riding Chuba to the finish line following Sanders’ ugly outings in Lubbock and against Baylor. But I’ll give Sanders his due — and the benefit of the doubt — especially after losing his No. 1 option Tylan Wallace.

If Spencer can take advantage of the extra year’s worth of development and shore up his floor, we know his ceiling is sky high.

2. How Much Different Does the Offense Look?

Another year, another new OC. Sean Gleeson is out and Kasey Dunn is back (sort of) in and has taken over as OSU’s offensive coordinator. Also in is Tim Rattay to coach the QBs. I guess the real question should be how much actual difference will Dunn donning the headset make?

Dunn’s never called plays on his own (aside from that time when OSU coaches got stuck in an elevator) but according to Gundy, the offense is what the offense is.

“I’m very comfortable with the system we’re gonna run, which is our plays that we run,” Gundy said in the spring. “We don’t really change much. We do a little bit based on who the quarterback is. We don’t need to vary and get away from who we are. Kasey’s a perfect fit. We’re able to keep guys together. Once I felt like I had a good shot of getting Tim, it made me a lot more comfortable. The timing was good for all parties involved.”

Rattay spent last year as QB coach for the Redskins following a six-year stint on staff at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech. How much or little of an imprint either coach makes on the gameplan remains to be seen.

But with an established system like OSU’s in place, I think it’s less about what plays are schemed up each week and more about who has Sanders’ ear when its third-and-long in the fourth quarter. Dunn has the built-in equity in Gundy’s eyes that Gleeson never had coming in from the FCS or Yurcich had coming in from Div. II. Hell, maybe he has more than Yurcich ever had at OSU.

3. Who Holds the Clipboard?

Injuries can happen, especially to dynamic QBs that seem set on hurdling linebackers. (I swear I was fervently knocking on my desk after I typed that.)

In 2019 OSU benefited from an established, veteran backup in Dru Brown. But behind QB1 in 2020 there sits virtually no experience. (Before all you Shaun Taylor truthers bellow, I’m not counting his four pass attempts against an FCS team.)

The obvious choice seems to lie between former four-star Shane Illingworth, the true frosh, and redshirt freshman Brendan Costello. Illingworth enrolled early but, thanks to the new world we live in, was unable to take full advantage of spring practice.

On the other hand, Costello didn’t appear to be on the quarterback depth chart last year despite the buzz surrounding the elder Cali passer coming in.

My uneducated guess puts Illingworth atop the list. Here’s what Mike Gundy was able to glean from the Cowboys’ first spring practice that seems to back my theory up.

“He seems to be doing great. He’s pretty quiet, doesn’t talk a lot, did well in the offseason,” Gundy gushed about Illingworth. “I was impressed with how big his body is. I would’ve thought he would’ve struggled more. He didn’t. I thought he did good out there today. It’s real early, but I don’t think it’s overwhelming him. He’s kinda holding his own at this point.

“When you’re as big as he is (6-foot-5, 226 pounds), it’s not easy to do all that running. Sometimes when you come in and play quarterback as an early enrolled freshman, it can overwhelm you a little bit. He seems to be doing fine.

“He’s a lot like Taylor [Cornelius]. Taylor was more flexible and had more just straight speed than what Shane does at this time. But their body structure and kind of the way they carry themselves, there’s a lot of similarities. Nobody ever heard Corn talk for four years. They’re a lot alike from that standpoint.”

I’m encouraged by what Gundy said about Illingworth. We know he’s not one to get too high on a freshman (at least publicly), especially before he’s seen them on the field.

As far as the Cornelius comp goes, color me optimistic. While the two may be of similar height, their ceilings coming in as freshmen couldn’t be much different. Gundy and Co. turned the un-offered Cornelius into a legitimate Big 12 starter. What could they do with the No. 6 pro-style passer in the nation?





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