STILLWATER, Okla. - First string, second string or third string, Oklahoma State's quarterbacks have produced this season. Clint Chelf is just the latest example.
Chelf, a fourth-year junior, made his first start Saturday afternoon and threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys handed West Virginia its fourth straight loss, 55-34.
The most talked-about quarterback in the stadium was the Mountaineers' Geno Smith, who was considered a Heisman Trophy front-runner during their 5-0 start. And he was his usual self Saturday - 36 of 54, 364 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. But Chelf led the Cowboys to an early 14-0 lead and they never gave it up, even after Smith pulled West Virginia within four late in the third quarter.
Oklahoma State’s Ryan Robinson, left, and Christian Littlehead tackle West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith during Saturday’s game.
"It's definitely been tough (as the backup), but I mean any time that you're a competitor and you want it that bad, it's going to be like that if you're the odd man out. I knew that if I got my chance, I'd be ready."
The Cowboys (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) began the year with true freshman Wes Lunt at quarterback. He injured a knee early in the third game and was replaced by redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh, who suffered a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago. Lunt returned but suffered an apparent concussion in a loss to Kansas State last week.
Chelf made the most of his chance.
"I'm very happy he decided to stay with us," coach Mike Gundy said. "We thought there was a chance he might leave in the summer. He stayed here. It's not been easy for him this season, but we're glad he's here.
"We've been very lucky that we've had three quarterbacks that started the season with zero experience play as well as they've played."
Gundy said Chelf was asked to make decisions on about 50 of the Cowboys' 66 offensive plays, and he busted only a few of those. He looked most often to Josh Stewart, who had a career-high 172 yards on 13 catches, including touchdowns of 21 and 20 yards. Stewart also scored on a 46-yard run.
Stedman Bailey caught 14 passes for 225 yards and a score, but the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4) gave up at least 55 points for the second time in three weeks.
The game marked the return of West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator before taking the job in Morgantown. He was not happy about breakdowns in the kicking game that helped Oklahoma State's cause.
"Making mistakes at home in the Big 12 is going to hurt you enough, but making mistakes on the road in the Big 12 is worse," he said.
Oklahoma State only led 38-34 with 5:20 left in the third quarter after Smith scored on a 1-yard sneak one play after linebacker Terrence Garvin snagged a deflected pass and returned it 42 yards. But the Cowboys got a field goal and two touchdowns on their next three possessions to make the score 55-34 with just under 10 minutes left in the game. Chelf hit Stewart on a 20-yard TD, and Jeremy Smith scored on a 21-yard run.
Jeremy Smith's touchdown came three plays after the Cowboys had stopped West Virginia on fourth-and-6 at the Mountaineer's 39-yard line. Oklahoma State's defense produced a big stop in the second quarter as well, stuffing Shawne Alston on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with the Cowboys holding a 21-7 lead.
Joseph Randle ran for 81 yards to go over the 1,000-yard mark, the sixth straight year an Oklahoma State back has done so.
The Cowboys led 28-7 after a first quarter filled with big plays. Stewart took a reverse handoff around the right side and went 46 yards for a touchdown on Oklahoma State's first drive. Later, he made a diving catch for a 19-yard gain on third-and-2 to keep a drive alive, and finished the drive with a 21-yard TD reception and a 14-0 lead.
West Virginia's first touchdown came not on a pass by Smith, but by backup Paul Millard, who came on after Smith had his helmet knocked off on a sack that left the Mountaineers facing fourth-and-13 at the Oklahoma State 37. Millard was given plenty of time and found Bailey in the end zone to make it 14-7.
Josh Gilbert brought the crowd back to life on the next kickoff by returning it 96 yards for a TD- his school-record fifth kick return for a touchdown.
Smith threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin in the second quarter to get the Mountaineers within 21-14. But the Cowboys answered with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Chelf to Blake Jackson and, after a muffed kick return by West Virginia, a short field goal to push out to a 31-14 lead.