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Column: In win, OSU shows it relies too much on Sanders’ heroics

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Spencer Sanders

OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders entered late in the third quarter and led the Cowboys to a 20-14 win over Iowa State.

A bag of ice, held together with stretch wrap, clings to Spencer Sanders’ right shoulder. The same shoulder that caused recent trouble for the Cowboys. The shoulder that is responsible for OSU’s struggles and success.

The most important shoulder in Stillwater. Sanders' OSU's quarterback, wouldn't let that injury get in the way of his job.

“I’m too competitive for that s***,” he said.

With that quote in mind, that’s why Sanders talked about a 20-14 win over Iowa State. Not a loss. That’s why, with the Cowboys trailing four points in the third quarter, Sanders took over for Gunnar Gundy and delivered the win.

He played in a game that he wasn't supposed to. The pregame injury report from OSU radio announcer Dave Hunziker listed Sanders as doubtful. But he played. He won, too.

“A lot people have been saying that I came in and won the game,” Sanders said. “I really didn’t. I just did my role and everybody else. All the other 10 players on the field did their role as well.”

Sanders will say that because he’s a humble teammate. It’s his duty to compliment his teammates. Stats say otherwise. He did his role. Won the game. Who throws the ball? Quarterback. Not an offensive lineman. Not anyone else.

Sanders drove the Cowboys down the field for a go-ahead touchdown.  Who drove the Cowboys down the field for a game leading touchdown? Sanders. No one else.

The drive was six plays. Five Sanders passes. One Sanders run.

“When we brought him in, we just said we’re gonna throw it every down,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We couldn’t run the ball.”

It worked, too.

In that drive, he proved his value. A fifth-year quarterback who knows the playbook inside and out.

“He can do this blindfolded,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Sanders proved the Cowboys aren’t the same without him. Same with most college football teams without the starting quarterback.

Kansas started 5-0 and quarterback Jalon Daniels earned some Heisman buzz. Until a right shoulder injury against TCU. Jayhawks are 1-3 since then. At Auburn, quarterback Zach Calzada hasn't played a game because of a shoulder injury. He's out for the season and the Tigers are 3-6.

It's possible, there are a few outliers. 

Michigan curb-stomped its opponents with running back Blake Corum. His 16 rushing touchdowns are tied with Pitt's Israel Abanikanda as the nation’s best. Corum leads the offense of the No. 3 team in the country.

Sanders’ stats are better than those of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Yet, the Wolverines are closing in on a repeat College Football Playoff appearance. McCarthy’s stats don’t matter when Corum is doing the job. Michigan has a game-changing running game. OSU doesn’t.

Remember the 2021 Big 12 championship? Baylor didn’t have its starting quarterback. The backup played in the conference championship. Not an ideal situation. Terrible timing. Didn’t matter. After 60 minutes, some might’ve viewed it as great timing. Baylor found its new quarterback, Blake Shapen. Sent the starter to the transfer portal.

How about Iowa? Quarterback Spencer Petras averages 110 yards a game yet the Hawkeyes are bowl eligible in of the most competitive conferences.

OSU didn't capitalize on ISU's five turnovers. Sanders changed that.

He’s like Thanos in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Thanos looks at his left hand and grips the infinity stones.

“Fine, I’ll do it myself.” 

Sanders did that. He exposed ISU’s top ranked Big 12 defense.

If a half-healthy Sanders will bail out his team like he’s done all season, why not play him? OSU relies on him too much because it can. He proved that Saturday night. He’s done that plenty before.

How about the Fiesta Bowl? He led the Cowboys past a 28-7 deficit to win the thing. Against Texas Tech, he rallied his team down four to win 41-31. What about the Texas game? Down 21-10 in the second quarter. Won 41-34.

If you’re going to let him play, let him do it in the most important part of the game. Fourth quarter. Down a few. That’s what Gundy did.

But for the rest of the season? Let him play. That’s what Sanders does.  He doesn’t have an issue with that. If doctors didn’t exist, he’s a guy that would play until he can’t walk. He’s that guy. 

As he said a few weeks ago, he’s a “tough mother****er.

“Spencer is gonna play come hell or high water,” offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said.

Sanders said he’ll play against Oklahoma, too. Team doctors might say otherwise. He won’t shut it down and rest for future seasons.

"I'm playing," he said. "There ain't no question about it."