Spencer Sanders is more than just the exciting dual-threat prospect that showed up at OSU in 2018. His tangible talents on the field are still enticing, but it’s what you can’t put a finger on that makes him so important to the Cowboys.
He’s learned a lot during his four years in Stillwater, but he’ll be the first to admit that he’s not finished learning, or improving.
In his 2021 debut against Tulsa, Sander showed why he’s Oklahoma State’s QB1, but he also showed a little rust — and even a wart or two that we’ve seen in the past.
“It comes with it,” Sanders said of any first-game jitters. “You can ask LD [Brown]. He asked me if I was good before the game, and I said ‘yeah I’m good.’ I did a lot of studying, just trying to focus on not overly preparing or overthinking. I kept telling myself it’s never too much you can’t handle. I’m surrounded by a great group of guys. We have a great defense on the other side, I always know that. It’s always fun to get out there. It was more excited than jitters.”
Through the first four drives on Saturday, Sanders was 1-for-6 for 11 yards, the Cowboys were 1-for-5 on third downs and they were coming off of consecutive three-and-outs. But on the next drive, Sanders connected on three of his four pass attempts including two on third-and-long. Consecutive bombs went to freshman Jaden Bray for 28 yards and 26 yards and a score.
Sanders wasn’t perfect from that point on — he threw a head-scratching pick-6 on the next possession — but he remained composed as he knocked off the rust and he still was able to make the plays necessary to keep the Cowboys unbeaten, with his arm and with his legs.
That’s a trait which rarely comes without experience. It’s less measurable, but just as important. Sanders was confident and calm when the offense struggled. It’s not something that has come naturally to Sanders past but remaining even-keeled is necessary, especially with as much youth as he has surrounding him.
Thanks to injury issues and the NFL Draft, a handful of OSU’s starters on offense are young and inexperienced. Four of Sanders’ top five wide receivers are freshmen and Bray and Bryson Green (the two that found the end zone against Tulsa) are just months removed from prom.
The now veteran quarterback has taken on a mentoring role with the Cowboys’ younger contributors like Bray, who led the Cowboys with 84 yards on Saturday and has emerged as just one of their exciting young receivers.
“He can make phenomenal plays,” said Sanders. “He can make phenomenal catches. He’s a great receiver. Great speed, great routes, great route-running. Great blocking on the outside too, big body. I’m real confident [in him]. I’m happy with what he’s going to bring to the table.”
During his weekly radio show, Mike Gundy compared Bray to Justin Blackmon (no pressure!) but he was also quick to point out that there will be growing pains and that there’s no substitute for game reps.
“There’s no fast forward button on gaining experience,” said Gundy. “There’s no substitute either. That’s kinda what we’re going through [with the young receivers].”
That’s where QB1 comes in. The emphatic bundle of energy that Gundy once called a “Tasmanian devil” has become a calming force.
“My role is to be patient,” said Sanders. “Sometimes [the younger players] may have a little ma’s (missed assignments) and stuff like that. That’s fine. It’s okay.
“I don’t always deliver the perfect pass. I don’t always the perfect read and that’s always what I tell them. ‘I’m not a perfect quarterback so I’m not expecting you to be. The better you can be every play, every day. It’s just 1 percent better, 2, percent better.’
“As long as they can keep focusing on themselves and do their job, we can all come together and have accountability and work together and get better.”
Sanders admitted that he has to get better in “all aspects” of his game but knows that through his own improvement he can raise the level of OSU’s team on the whole. He’ll be expected to show that in a potential bounce-back on the road at Boise State.
“As long as we keep working together and moving as a team we can get a lot better,” continued Sanders. “Especially with all the young guys stepping up to the plate. We have a great defense on the other side, and we are always confident in our defense and it’s time for us to start paying them back.”
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