Don't Doubt Sanders As QB1

John Helsley

I work with kids, at least I call them kids. College-aged students.

They’re pretty sharp.

And often naïve.

Well, inexperienced. Actually, not all that different from some older fans, but the conversations we have are sometimes… silly.

Example: when it was announced that Spencer Sanders was healthy and ready to return behind center for the Cowboys, some kids claimed OSU was better off with Shane Illingworth as the starter.

Uh, no.

This is a classic small-sample-size reaction, combined with not accounting for the improvement Sanders was and is sure to make in his second season as QB1 – improvement we haven’t yet witnessed due to Sanders’ ankle injury.

And yes, Illingworth has been impressive. A savior of sorts, rescuing the Cowboys against Tulsa and then managing the wins over West Virginia and Kansas.

Still, as solid as he’s been, and as promising as his future appears, he’s not ready for prime time just yet. And that’s OK, not at all a shot at the youngster.

But beating TU and West Virginia and KU isn’t at the level of what’s to come, beginning Saturday with a visit from No. 17 Iowa State. The Cyclones are good, really good. They’ll be handful on both sides of the ball, in what could be the game that decides the Big 12.

And more tests lie ahead. Texas next week. OU. Road games at Baylor and TCU.

Illingworth hasn’t been prepped for that, through no fault of his own.

Remember, there were no summer workouts, which are invaluable to preparation, especially with young players. Fall camp was different, too. And in Illingworth’s case, his fall camp was cut short by two weeks, as he quarantined due to COVID-19.

What you’ve seen from Illingworth in three games, while good, was a quarterback operating with a tiny piece of the playbook, allowing the defense to control games against overmatched offenses.

More will be needed from the quarterback position going forward, a lot more.

And Sanders is the best guy to deliver that, both because he’s going to be really good, and also because his running skills offer a needed extra element for an offensive line that’s been compromised.

“He looks really good,” senior receiver Tylan Wallace said of Sanders. “He’s back out there like he never left.”

Mike Gundy hints at the possibility of playing both quarterbacks, but I’m not buying. For one, that’s not Gundy’s preferred MO. And it’s not like Sanders is lacking as a passer, and the throwing game is where Illingworth would offer help.

“We’re alternating reps and we might play both, I’m not sure right now,” Gundy said. “We continue to get them quality work and Shane’s played pretty good. I’m just glad to have a couple of guys that can play.”

Gundy, however, loves a little gamesmanship; loves the thought of defensive coordinators pressed to prepare for something extra, although my guess is the Cyclones won’t overly stress themselves working too much on Illingworth.

Not this week. Not this year, even if the backup quarterback is always the most popular man on campus.

Sanders is the major threat.

“He can throw the ball 70 yards down the field, or he can take off running down the middle and you’ve gotta try and catch him,” Wallace said. “It’s hard defensively to stop him because you’ve got to worry about him running the ball and throwing it.”

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Comments (8)
No. 1-6

I'm no kid, but.... we're a better team with Shane under center. Always go with a passing QB if you have a choice. Always.

carry on

Kansas cowboy
Kansas cowboy

When he stops throwing deep in double coverage, can read his second option, hit the deep pass, then I'll be on board. Sanders that is.


There's a chance Cal, that we have two passing quarterbacks this year, with one being an unusually good runner. OU has had year after year of that. We could possibly as well. We'll know a lot more tomorrow night. But I'm not far from you buddy.....Weeden kept it very interesting in Stillwater!


I don’t know how anyone can reasonably claim we’re better with either qb. Any such claim by a fan is uninformed.
Illingworth has in no way been given the entire playbook to work with. And I doubt he knows it.
Sanders has only played a half-dozen injury free games in his career. We have no idea how he’s improved since the middle of last year.
RAs probably right about one thing, definitely right about another. Probably right about which QB is better right now, definitely right about naive, inexperienced kids and older fans.


our best QBs have always been better passers than runners.... Weatherbie, Hilger, Robinson, Weeden, Rudolph, Illinworth... etc.