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Cowboys Left With Another Bedlam Beatdown

John Helsley

Spencer Sanders took a seat in the first quarter of Saturday night’s Bedlam game after absorbing a hard shot on a sack.

Soon he was standing on the sideline, not to return… until the fourth quarter.

Was he hurt? Was he benched?

Some of both?

“He got dinged in the head,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said of Sanders.

There were conflicting reports, however, with sideline personnel reportedly suggesting Sanders was out due to a “coaches decision,” according to radio reports, with Shane Illingworth entering and getting an extended loooooong leash before getting yanked himself later.

Then Gundy offered a curious answer after the game, curious considering medical personnel aren’t in the habit of ruling players out with head injuries, then changing course.

“(Sanders) started feeling better,” Gundy said. “In the second half, they said that they felt like he was OK.”

The Cowboys got more than dinged, again, in Bedlam, thumped 41-13 by Oklahoma in a game that essentially was over in the opening minutes, especially with Sanders going missing from action.

So, did Gundy just fuel a quarterback controversy?

And if so, yikes.

Because here’s the deal: OSU needs Sanders behind center to beat decent teams. Probably need him next year, too.

And sending mixed signals to QB1 isn’t wise in these days of quick-trigger entries into the transfer portal.

No knock on Illingworth, the true freshman quarterback who was critical in helping OSU manage a 3-0 start to the season while Sanders was truly hurt, missing most of three games with an ankle sprain. Illingworth offers much potential and promise.

But this ain’t Kansas anymore. And it showed Saturday night, with Illingworth scuffling mightily against the Sooners, ultimately getting the hook, albeit too late for any rally, with OU firmly in control 34-13 by the time Sanders re-entered.

Like many of OSU’s Bedlam showings, this one was curious in many ways, beginning with a shocking start, which saw the Sooners seize a 21-0 lead less than nine minutes in; continuing when Sanders surprisingly reappeared, after he was seemingly ruled out; and capped by a punt from the OU 39 early in the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys down 34-13.

A lot went wrong, on both sides of the ball, so the loss can’t be pinned on the quarterback decisions.

But the Cowboys remain in the jumbled Big 12 title game picture, and at a minimum will be playing for a better bowl game with three games remaining, quite winnable contests against Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor.

And a quarterback controversy isn’t needed. Not now. Not anytime soon, either.

Gundy seemed to foreshadow the QB shuffle, too, in his taped pregame interview with play-by-pay man Dave Hunziker.

Then the game sped out of control, with the Sooners jumping in front 21-0 after their first three possessions, one aided by an interception of Sanders, albeit one out of his control, due to the throw being batted first at the line of scrimmage.

Soon came the sack and the decision to strand Sanders on the sideline.

Illingworth entered, providing an initial spark, before looking like

the true freshman he is, completing but 5 of 21 passes; one in the second half, and that was a short pass on a third-and-18 play.

Most of his throws missed the mark badly. Some were flipped into double coverage. Rarely did he step into a throw.

Illingworth looks like the future, but it’s a future down the road. He’s not the answer, yet, and that’s OK, because he is a freshman – a true freshman. And a freshman who didn’t enjoy a normal summer in Stillwater, when bonds and relationships and connections are formed.

His time will come.

But it shouldn’t be rushed.

“He comes in and he does what he’s supposed to do,” Cowboys receiver Tylan Wallace said of Illingworth. “You can’t expect much from a young guy like that.”

But Saturday night, Gundy seemingly did expect a lot. And it just wasn’t there.

“I thought (Illingworth) did some good things,” said Cowboys offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn. “He was up and down a little bit. Made some throws, missed some throws.”

Between the lines of the politeness of Wallace and Dunn, you find Illingworth’s limitations.

Bedlam is over, gone bust, again.

But more football remains. A shot at 8-2. Maybe a Big 12 title game appearance, if things fall just right. A bowl game.

This is no time for a quarterback controversy, intended or unintended.

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