Daxx Garman hadn't played a meaningful snap of football since 2009 when he entered Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.
But after J.W. Walsh suffered an ankle injury late in the first quarter, Garman lined up under center for the first time since his junior year at Jones (Okla.) High School and, fortunately for the Cowboys, he looked more than ready to get thrown into the fire.
Garman completed 16-of-26 passes on the day for 244 yards and two touchdowns to help guide Oklahoma State to a 40-23 victory against Missouri State on Saturday in the home opener at Boone Pickens Stadium.
The junior signal caller was inconsistent at times, which comes with the territory when you haven't played in half a decade, but he showed flashes of what made people so high on him coming out of spring football.
One play in particular sequence does a fairly accurate job of encompassing the ups-and-downs that come from rolling the dice with his big-play arm and lack of in-game experience. With OSU leading 17-6 in the second quarter, the Cowboys took over deep in their own territory after Ofa Hautau blocked a 39-yard MSU field goal attempt.
Garman's lack of pocket presence was immediately evident on the first two plays of the drive when he struggled to catch up to game speed, failing to get through his check downs and get rid of the ball ahead of the pressure, resulting in a sack on first down and a loss of three on second down.
That set up a sure-fire passing situation on 3rd-and-19 from OSU's own 13-yard line; that's when Garman showed off his arm.
Garman dropped back and rolled out to the right side of the pocket before firing the ball across his body on a rope to a streaking Brandon Sheperd. The pass hit Sheperd in stride across the middle of the field en route to an 87-yard touchdown, which was the second-longest TD strike through the air in school history.
"Daxx put the ball on the money. All I had to do was go up, get it and score. It was a perfect ball,” Sheperd said. “I couldn't ask for a better ball."
There's no doubting Garman's arm and he completed five passes covering at least 20 yards in the win. He might offer OSU its best option at utilizing its deep and dynamic receiving corps, as evidenced by eight different Pokes catching a pass on Saturday. Sheperd led the way with four catches for 131 yards and the 87-yard TD. Jhuajuan Seales was the other OSU receiver to be on the end of a Garman scoring strike, hauling a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter off a tipped pass.
But for as much ability and potential as Garman put on display in the closer-than-expected win, coach Mike Gundy clarified that the job is still Walsh's if healthy.
Early reports point to a sprained ankle for Walsh, who was 5-of-9 passing for 30 yards with an additional 41 rushing before leaving the contest.
Whether or not Garman starts against UT-San Antonio next week, he was happy with the opportunity he received on Saturday.
"It felt great to get back out there. It's been a long time,” Garman said. “It felt good to get out there on the field going through the actual motions in a real game situation.”
If you're a Cowboy fan, the performance from Garman is one of the only positives to take from this one but there was a record-tying performance on special teams.
Oklahoma State blocked a school-record and Big 12-record three kicks against Missouri State. Jordan Sterns blocked a first-quarter punt, James Castleman rejected a second-quarter PAT attempt and Hautau blocked a field goal attempt.
As a result, OSU became just the second school in NCAA history to block a field goal, point after attempt and punt in the same game. Oregon State did it back in 1996.
The OSU rushing game was good at times, finishing with 206 yards and two scores – both from Rennie Childs – on 5.9 yards per carry and did it without starter Desmond Roland in the lineup. That said, OSU's rushing attack was largely ineffective in the red zone, causing the Cowboys to be forced to settle for field goals.
And the field goals weren't exactly automatic. Ben Grogan struggled again in this one with two misses but he was perfect from inside 40 yards, ultimately connecting on 4-of-6 attempts on the day.
But the biggest downer on the day wasn't the inconsistent offense, poor red-zone blocking or iffy kicking game – it was the defense.
A week after a stellar performance against No. 1 Florida State, the OSU defense looked unfocused and out of sync, allowing a middle-of-the-road FCS opponent to rack up 374 all-purpose yards and a whopping 9.1 yards per pass attempt.
After OSU took a commanding 37-6 lead on a 34-yard Grogan field goal in the third quarter, the defense completely fell asleep, allowing MSU to score 20 of the game's final 23 points.
The secondary was particularly soft, especially at safety, allowing Kierra Harris to gash OSU for 206 yards on 14-of-21 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The passing game opened up the run, as the Bears plowed their way to 155 yards on nearly four yards a pop. It was baffling on the heels of the highly-focused, never-surrender approach the young group showed against the Seminoles but it did provide a sobering reminder of the Cowboys' youth.
"Our inexperience showed at times. Even though we got a lot of guys a lot of reps and played some young guys for the first time, they got some plays on our No. 1's,” OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A lot of our ones are inexperienced, so it's not like we're returning a great and experienced group to handle a bunch of misdirection, wheel routes out of the backfield and double moves by wide outs. Ideally, this right here is the kind of game where you have a ton to learn by with a team of guys that haven't played very much. They've really got a great challenge ahead of them to get ready for this next week."
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