MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If retroactive recruiting rankings are your thing, take a glimpse back at the dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2011 class.
There sat J.W. Walsh at No. 4 on the Rivals list, a few notches behind top-rated Braxton Miller and a few spots ahead of Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and and Johnny Manziel.
Even before he zoomed up the national list and achieved four-star status, Walsh caught the attention of Dana Holgorsen, the newly hired offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. It helped that Holgorsen was friends with Walsh’s dad John, the coach at Denton Guyer High School, about a half-hour’s drive north of Dallas.
As OSU head coach Mike Gundy recounted this week, Holgorsen wanted to make Walsh’s recruitment a priority, and once the kid wound up committing in February 2010, he became the only quarterback the Cowboys signed in the following year’s class.
“We knew about J.W., but Dana kind of pushed the issue with him, and his relationship with Coach Walsh was really good,” Gundy said. “(Holgorsen) was the one that pushed the envelope early.
“From there, when we saw his tape and his history of being a winner, it didn’t really take much to convince us to bring him in.”
Come Saturday at high noon, Holgorsen—lured away to West Virginia before Walsh enrolled—finally gets to face the quarterback he helped lure to Oklahoma State. Walsh was sidelined with fractured right knee when WVU lost 55-34 in Stillwater last season, an injury with an astonishing backstory that only bolsters Holgorsen’s initial perception of Walsh.
“He’s a winner,” said Holgorsen. “Being a coach’s kid, watching him win (high school) games with the intangibles he has, you could see that on the sidelines and in practice. You can take those guys and make their skills better, and obviously they have.”
Despite the knee injury that shelved Walsh for three games, he closed 2012 with a 170.11 quarterback rating that was the fourth-best ever for an FBS freshman. (The company ahead of him in that class included Michael Vick and Sam Bradford.) He completed 66 percent of his passes, posted a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, threw for 1,564 yards and ran for another 290 yards and seven scores.
In three games this fall, Walsh’s completion rate exceeds 70 percent and his yards per carry has climbed from 5.8 to 7.3. And while lacking NFL arm strength, he displays superb touch and anticipation, allowing him to make enough downfield throws to prevent secondaries from suffocating the Cowboys’ quick-screen game.
Walsh is the picture of efficiency on an offense that couldn’t be more statistically efficient—at least not in the red zone, where the Cowboys have 15 touchdowns in 15 trips. No stat better exemplifies Walsh’s knack for exploiting small creases with the read-option.
The breakdown on those red-zone TDs: five passing and 10 rushing.
WVU ON WALSH WATCH
Scooting through the line on draws and option keepers, Walsh leads OSU in rushing at 60.7 yards per game. He also owns the Cowboys longest run from scrimmage at 46 yards, which came against Mississippi State (not some cheapie against UT-San Antonio or Lamar).
But how does his elusiveness compare to Oklahoma’s tandem of Trevor Knight (seven carries for 42 yards) and Blake Bell (two for 21) or Maryland’s C.J. Brown (14 for 26 yards)?
“He’s no faster than the Oklahoma kid, he’s no faster than the Maryland kid,” said WVU linebacker Jared Barber. “It’s good that we already played two quarterbacks who can also run, so I think we’ll handle it pretty well.”
Oklahoma State has committed one turnover this season, remarkable ball security for a squad that has run 222 plays.
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich—plucked by Gundy from, of all places, Division II Shippensburg University in February—couldn’t have asked for a better start, though he’s wary of jinxing it.
“You kind of feel like you’re in the dugout in the eighth inning, and you don’t want to talk about the no-hitter,” he said.