It’s never ideal when a team loses their starting quarterback. For a team as young as the Oklahoma State Cowboys, losing J.W. Walsh, one of the few players with significant experience, seems like it would cause some serious doom and gloom around Boone Pickens Stadium. But despite Walsh being sidelined for the rest of the season with a foot injury, Oklahoma State is as dangerous as ever in the Big 12 title race.
In fact, the Cowboys’ offense might be even more dangerous with new starter Daxx Garman leading the charge from under center.
When looking at Walsh and Garman, you see two quarterbacks with very different styles. Walsh is a dual-threat quarterback who is just as likely to make plays with his legs as he is with his arm. His passes tend to be underneath throws that move the offense down the field in chunks, allowing Oklahoma State’s other playmakers to make plays with the ball in their hands. In the two games he appeared in this season, just 12 of his 36 passes went more than 10 yards before hitting a receiver and he was connecting on just 55.6 percent of his throws with one touchdown, one interception, and a career-low 6.47 yards per attempt. His athleticism, however, helped keep the Pokes’ offense rolling as he had rushed for 93 yards on 15 carries with a pair of touchdowns in just over a game’s worth of snaps.
Garman, on the other hand, is a prototypical pocket-passer with a strong arm and excellent accuracy, His play is more similar to former OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden, who led the team to the program’s first and only Big 12 Championship back in 2011. While Walsh was a dink-and-dunk type of quarterback, Garman will let it rip and stretch a defense vertically with the passing game.
In his first start of the year against the UTSA Roadrunners, Garman put that ability on display with 14 of his 26 passes traveling more than 10 yards as he connected on seven of those throws for 208 yards and two touchdowns. In just about a game and a half, Garman has thrown for 559 yards with four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a strong 9.98 yards per attempt average, the 12th best average in the country so far this season.
Even before Walsh got hurt, head coach Mike Gundy had talked about rotating Garman in from time to time to take advantage of his arm strength and create matchup problems down the field for defenses with the speedy playmakers that the Cowboys have in 2014.
The biggest advantage that Walsh had in this quarterback derby was his experience and leadership. There’s no denying that Walsh is a gutsy playmaker, as evidenced by his near-rally against the Florida State Seminoles in the season-opener. But when breaking down the X’s and O’s of the Oklahoma State offense, Garman brings another element to the field with his ability to throw the deep ball that compensates for any loss of athleticism at the quarterback position moving forward.
Now, Oklahoma State will get to cater the offensive playbook to what Garman can do in the passing game, which better suits what offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich would like to do in Stillwater. Yurcich’s offense is a wide-open spread attack that utilizes the athleticism of the receiving corps to stretch defenses vertically and open up opportunities for playmakers to make big plays. While the team adapted to and incorporated the running ability of Walsh into their playcalling, they have run much smoother with quarterbacks who stay in the pocket and can throw the ball all over the field. Last season, Clint Chelf and Walsh went back and forth running Oklahoma State’s offense with Chelf ultimately taking control as the Cowboys finished the year winning four of their last six, including a 49-17 win over the then-No. 13 Baylor Bears where Chelf threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns while completing 76 percent of his passes.
The Cowboys have playmakers who can create in space if given the opportunity. Perhaps none are as dynamic or explosive as newcomer Tyreek Hill. The running back/wide receiver is the fastest player that Gundy has ever seen and made an immediate impact this season when he accounted for 278 all-purpose yards in the near-upset of Florida State. He presents a dangerous weapon for the Pokes this season if they can find ways to get the ball in his hands with open space in front of him. Garman can provide that open space.
With Walsh under center, defenses have been more concerned with the quarterback’s running ability than his downfield throws. While Oklahoma State still took some shots with Walsh, they were not nearly as frequent or as effective and defensive coordinators felt comfortable with their defensive backs containing it on their own. That freed up safeties to drop down into the box and load up against the run to contain not only Walsh, but playmakers like Hill as well. With all those bodies clogging up the line of scrimmage, it can be difficult to get the team’s gamebreakers on track.
Garman, on the other hand, forces defenses to respect the deep passing game and defend the entire field. His effectiveness in the vertical passing attack stretches a defense and puts pressure on the secondary to keep plays in front of them and prevent big gains. With the defense pushed to defend deep, it opens up a ton of space underneath where playmakers like Hill can take advantage of matchups one-on-one with linebackers. While the Big 12 has some excellent linebackers this season, none of them have the speed to keep up with Hill, who will use that open space to turn small throws into big gains.
All of that starts, however, with Garman and his ability to throw the ball all over the field. While he lacks the experience and leadership intangibles that Walsh brought to the table, Garman has the talent to take this Cowboys’ offense to the next level in 2014. If the team rallies around him, Oklahoma State will emerge as a serious contender for the Big 12 title this fall and could even make a case for the College Football Playoff if it runs the table.
Can Garman step in and take them all the way?