Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson is one of the most underrated players in the nation, He's directed the Cowboys to a 6-1 record this season heading into their game against No. 3 Texas on Saturday night.
We sat down with Robinson to talk about how his team has been able to overcome the loss of top rusher Kendall Hunter and top receiver Dez Bryant, how coach Mike Gundy has handled the travails of this season and his excitement of trying to halt Texas’ 11-game winning streak over the Cowboys before what is expected to be the biggest crowd to ever attend a game at Boone Pickens Stadium Saturday night.
Your team has come remarkably close to beating Texas several times during your career, but the Cowboys still have lost 11 straight games to the Longhorns. How frustrating has that been?
Zac Robinson: There’s no question it’s been frustrating to be in the situations we’ve been in and not been able to finish the deal. We know we’ve been really close the last couple of years and haven’t been able to finish the deal. In past years, we haven’t taken care of the ball like we could in some critical situations. From an offensive standpoint, we know we’ll have to take better care of the ball. They are a good defense and we know what we have to do in order to have success against them.
Since the start of the season, you have lost Kendall Hunter, the Big 12’s leading returning rusher, with an ankle injury. And Dez Bryant has been lost to an NCAA suspension for nearly as long and won’t be playing this year. Could you have ever imagined that your team would have been able to maintain the offensive success that has marked this season without them?
ZR: I would have thought you were crazy. Some of the guys who are stepping up and catching touchdowns now, they started as third-string guys. Our running backs Keith Toston and Beau Johnson have done well for us. It’s great to see those guys step up. At the beginning of the season, who would have thought they would have been able to do this? It’s a tribute to their hard work.
How much of an adjustment has there been with all of these new players?
ZR: There was a little bit of an adjustment. Losing [tight end] Jamal Mosley was a big loss before the season. He was really coming around and catching the ball. And then when Kendall went down, it wasn’t too hard because we always had a lot of reps for Keith and Beau. And for the receivers, it didn’t take that long. It was the Grambling game when we didn’t have Dez for the first time. It did feel a little different at the time, but as we kept working, I kept getting more involved with the guys. And now, I feel just as comfortable with them as anybody.
Coach Gundy has been known to be rather volatile at times. How has he handled all of the personnel losses?
ZR: He’s handled it really well. We’ve had the attitude as a team of feeding off the momentum of the next guy making a play. If we don’t have a player, somebody else has got to make that catch and throw. And that’s the attitude we’ve had. Every time he’s gotten in front of the team, that’s what he’s emphasized.
Have you noticed any change in his attitude?
ZR: He’s more relaxed this year and he’s keeping it fun. That’s been a big reason why we’ve been able to play so well the last few weeks.
How has your offensive philosophy been transformed by not having Dez and Kendall?
ZR: Not a lot, to be honest with you. Obviously, we don’t have the same kind of deep threats we had with Dez and we’re just taking what people are giving us. We’re seeing a lot of different coverages. In the old days, we used to see a safety over the top of Dez on almost every play. It’s been fun for me to see the different coverages and try to pick apart a defense any way we can. Spreading it to the different receivers has been one way of doing it. We’re having fun the way the play calling has gone and how we have thrown the ball.
How have all of these changes transformed you as a leader?
ZR: I think my leadership has never been looked to more than it is now. I always felt good and very comfortable with this team. But ever since Kendall and Dez went down, I’ve needed to step it up more. I’ve tried to stay loose, keep it fun and it’s been a way for me to have fun and just play. We’ve been trying to play ‘backyard ball’ and just keeping it light. Hopefully, we can continue to do that.
Are you taking a cue from Coach Gundy in that attitude?
ZR: We’ve tried to keep it fun. When you do that, you’ll play your best football. We’re always joking around, but then being serious. We have a good balance on that.
Do you have any explanation why quarterback numbers are down across the conference and nation this season? Are defenses getting better in handling spread offenses?
ZR: I can’t really answer that. I know that there’s an idea that you feel a lot of pressure. If you’ve played at a high level for such a long time, you feel you should be perfect. I know I’ve caught myself trying to be too perfect and too precise. But during the last few weeks, I’ve tried not to worry about that stuff and just played the game. But I also think defenses are getting better and that could be part of the reason of it.
What do you remember about your team’s loss in Austin last season?
ZR: It was very disappointing. I personally remember we were crushed after that loss -- it was a tough one for us. We competed hard until the end and just came up short. We knew we could compete and we had ourselves in a good position. To come up and not win was tough, but as a team, we bounced back and had a good season.
Texas is coming into this game No. 3 in the nation with the long winning streak against you guys. How much fun will it be to have them coming to Boone Pickens Stadium for first place in the Big 12 South?
ZR: I always felt good about playing against Texas. I’ve liked playing in big games. It will be a lot of fun. As an offense, we’re playing with a lot of confidence against a great defense like Texas. We’ll be ready to play them.