Woodward, Okla. —
By Jason Elmquist
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER — Starting their third different quarterback of the season, the Oklahoma State Cowboys didn’t appear to miss a beat as Clint Chelf lead OSU to a hard-fought 55-34 victory over West Virginia at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“I’m very proud of Clint Chelf. I think he did a great job. He handled himself well. He handled our offense and made plays,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.
Chelf’s first big play of the game came as a blocker. On a reverse to Josh Stewart, the Enid native put down a block to spring Stewart out of the backfield for a 46-yard touchdown run.
“It just shows you how much of a team player he is,” Stewart said. “Not too many quarterbacks are going to throw their body out there like that. And he definitely did that. It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve got a quarterback who is willing to block for you.”
Chelf connected with Stewart for the game’s second touchdown, a 21-yard pass with plenty of time in the pocket, that capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive with three minutes left in the opening quarter. But it wasn’t until later in the game that the Cowboy coaching staff let Chelf loose in the passing game.
The junior from Enid threw just 11 passes in the first half — completing nine for 142 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, Chelf tossed 20 passes and completed 13 to finish the game with 292 yards and four touchdowns.
“We want to try to get his feet wet and get him going. He has played well. If we would have known what we know now, we probably would have opened up the game a little differently,” Gundy said. “We wanted to get him comfortable. I’m pleased with the way he handled the offense.”
Chelf was very much needed in the second half with West Virginia seeming to find a groove. The Mountaineers had slowed down the OSU (6-3, 4-2 in Big 12) rushing attack, while their offense began to mount a comeback — cutting OSU’s lead to 38-34 at one point. But the defense, along with the Chelf-led offense, hunkered down and outscored WVU 17-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The biggest drive in the final 20 was orchestrated by Chelf, who went 5 of 7 with 78 yards passing, and found Stewart for another touchdown to give OSU a two-touchdown lead with 12 minutes left in regulation. The Cowboys ran the ball just once in the drive.
“Clint’s going to operate our offense better than the other guys will just because he’s been around it,” OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “The operational part of it was good, I don’t think that was ever any concern. I think that he’s understanding where we want to go with the ball and I think his confidence raised when he saw Wes (Lunt) be able to throw for some yards and J.W. (Walsh), too.”
While much of the story line behind Saturday’s win surrounded OSU’s third-string quarterback getting to start — and being the third Cowboy quarterback to earn OSU a conference win this season — much has to be said about the Oklahoma State special teams.
With West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) scoring on a fourth-and-13 late in the first quarter to make cut into OSU’s lead, the momentum for the Mountaineers was short-lived as Justin Gilbert returning the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. It was his fifth kickoff return for a touchdown, setting a new program record — previously set by Perrish Cox — and tying the Big 12 Conference record.
The OSU special teams also recovered a misplayed kickoff just before halftime, which turned into a field goal from Quinn Sharp to give OSU a 31-14 edge. The kickoff coverage team for OSU limited West Virginia’s Tavon Austin — who was averaging 33 yards per kickoff return heading into the game — to just 20 return yards on kickoffs and 12 yards on punt returns.
“I think the biggest area of improvement for us is our coverage. Our guys really stepped up and made some good plays,” Gundy said. “... We changed up our kickoff return. The offset worked out for us. ... I thought our special teams was the difference. Their offense made plays and our offense made plays, but special teams gave us the advantage.”
Jason Elmquist is sports editor for The Stillwater NewsPress.