STILLWATER -- Sometimes you have to go back and give credit to the fundamentals and some of the drills that your team does on a regular basis. One drill that was huge in the Cowboys 27-13 win over West Virginia is an end of practice tradition with offensive line coach Charlie Dickey and his big guys. They work several days a week at the end of practice on recovering fumbles.
I have to admit that drill came into my mind late in the game when Chuba Hubbard, who seems to be having unusual issues hanging onto the football, had the ball come out at the start of that final drive. The Cowboys were only up 20-13, a one score game. The ball was laying on the turf and right tackle Teven Jenkins fell on top of it. A Mountaineer defender leveraged himself underneath Jenkins, but thanks to practice, Jenkins held onto the ball.
At the end of that drive Hubbard would make some amends for a rough day by going 23-yards for a clinching touchdown and going over 100-yards to finish with 101-yards on 22 carries.
That was a microcosm of the day for the Cowboys on offense. The first play of the game was nearly a highlight for the season as Dillon Stoner attacked the middle of the field with the deep post and freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth threw a near perfect pass where only Stoner could get it, but he couldn't pull it in before hitting the turf on his diving attempt.
The rest of the first quarter the Cowboys would string together a first down or two, but nothing sustained. The run game was on and off. Passes were mostly kept short as the coaches were trying to keep it simple for Illingworth in his first start in only his second college game.
“When I say average, we’re going to grade him based on a college quarterback not being a freshman, that’s why he fell into the average category," Gundy said refusing to grade on a curve. "For a true freshman he played okay. There’s times he made some mistakes, but there’s times he did make big plays. All of that is going to take time. This guy is young. We found a way to win, and that’s what is important.”
A run game could really support a quarterback and Hubbard has been somewhat un-Hubbard-like and that is because the Canadian star had flat out spoiled us. The coaches rested him some in camp, but when they ramped him up, Gundy said Hubbard had never looked better. He looked faster and more confident in early September as the first game neared. Now, not only is Hubbard looking less confident but he is losing the football.
"Well, it's not good when you fumble the football," Gundy said. "He knows that and he has to do a better job of taking care of the football. He did come back in late and made a cut and got a score and did good for us, but this is not a secret we have to have him healthy, running the football, and taking care of the football for us to be a good offensive football team."
On the other hand, the offense hit it's first home run of the day when LD Brown, the rushing hero of the Tulsa game came on and took his first carry 66-yards for a touchdown. Brown and Hubbard both rushed for over 100-yards. Brown 11 carries for 103-yards and a 9.4-yards per carry average. Hubbard had his 101-yards and both had a touchdown.
Gundy is really excited right now about Brown.
"I'm just thrilled with him, his ability to protect (the quarterback) and to rush the football," Gundy said. "He started to cramp up some today, but it's almost like he said, 'I'm a senior. I'm going to roll with it this year and I'm going to play lights out.' His attitude, the smile on his face, and his willingness to compete has been awesome."
Gundy said Spencer Sanders could have played, but honestly, it is best to let him get completely past the ankle injury and keep it from potentially having a nagging impact throughout the season. That should be possible now as Illingworth likely draws the assignment at Kansas, a 47-14 loser Saturday to Baylor in Waco. The Cowboys then have a week off before going to Waco to play Baylor on Oct. 17.