I won't bore you with the details*, but an author once said at the end of his book that the entirety of his work up to that point was simply a ladder. Once you had "climbed the ladder" by reading his book, he insisted that you toss the ladder aside: you were on a new plane of understanding. To hold on to the views of his book as something important beyond what you learned by reading it would be to willingly jump down to the lower level again, to regress in everything the book might have taught you. His book was not a theory, but a process. Once the process was over, it would be wrong to repeat it over and over again.
Zac Robinson, in a similar matter, is a "ladder" that Oklahoma State football had to climb, but cannot keep going back to. I mean this as a compliment, although I am sure some people will take this the wrong way. We had to have a Quarterback like Zac Robinson. Years from now, on the eve of our first national championship game, they will talk about all the people that made the stellar rise of OSU football possible, and they will interview Mr. Robinson. However, if we are going to reach such a goal, we cannot dwell on Zac. Zac cannot end up being the best Quarterback OSU ever had if we want to make it to the big game. Someone better than Zac will have to come along. Someone different from Zac. Someone who has learned from the Zac Robinson era, and plays like we live in a new era of Cowboy football.
Two aspects of Zac Robinson's career serve as perfect metaphors for Cowboy football as it stands today, and point to what has to change if we want to keep progressing. The first aspect is simply the arch of Zac's career as a QB. We all know the story, that Zac's first position was indeed not QB, but Wide Reciever. He came to OSU as a conversion project Gundy thought he had plenty of time to work with, being that he had his superstar stud QB from Houston to rely on while Zac grew. When that...well...didn't "work out," Zac was thrust onto the stage. If we keep this in mind, then Zac's career really is quite amazing. In less than 5 years truly playing the position, Zac has made strides few people thought possible. Although he will not win any national awards, his career is truly laudable, and will not be soon forgotten in Stillwater.
This is a perfect metaphor for OSU under the Gundy/Pickens era. Thrown into the spotlight after our rising stud Coach Miles skipped town, for those of us who remember the great majority of 90's Cowboy football, the rise to where we are now is really quite a story in itself. Just like with Zac, it is only in our current mindset of expectations that we could be disappointed with either Zac or the Gundy years. If Boone Pickens would go back in time to 1992 (he has the money to build a time machine, so this might happen) and told Cowboy fans that they would no longer need Tetanus shots to attend football games and that we would be an annual bowl team, no one would believe him. In the present, we all expect more because we know we can do better. We know we are just there, inches away from making it to the next level.
Which brings me to my next metaphor.
November 24th, 2007. It was the 2nd Quarter of the Bedlam game in Norman. Oklahoma State had been stuffed at the goal line 3 times in a row. On fourth down, Zac, in for Bobby Reid, runs for the goal line. Instead of keeping his feet, he dives at the last minute, stretching the ball into the air. Inches from breaking the plane, 3 Sooners converge on Zac, knocking the ball away, keeping him out of the end zone and breaking the backs of the Cowboys in bedlam '07. (If you need to relive the nightmare, you can find a picture of it in the newok.com archives). The Sooners go on to stomp the Pokes. Inches....just a few inches away. We all thought he had scored, but the officials said no. Nothing serves as a better metaphor for our team right now. Inches from the next level, this season was going to be the big one. After the Georgia game, we could all taste it. Inches from the next level, we didn't keep our feat, fumbled the Houston game and...you know the rest. So while its true that Zac and this Cowboys team is an impressive story of rising to the occasion, Zac and this team also are the epitome of being so close to something, but not quite there yet. Zac will be the guy who got us that close to the goal line. He will not be the guy that gets us over it.
So with that said, my idea that Zac is a "ladder" to our program may start coming into focus. First, let me point out how Zac really and truly helped us climb from a place where we didn't want to be. In other words, let me point out what made him different from our previous QB's (I am generally thinking from the post Pat Jones-scandal era). It is true that Zac won the starting position in a similar manner to recent OSU Quarterbacks (how many times has an underclassmen usurped a starter in the past two decades? Fields? Woods? Ried? Does anyone remember Aso Pogi? This needs to stop!) However, the difference is that Zac became the face of the program. For the first time in a long, long time, the Quarterback was not simply the guy handing off to a stud like Tatum Bell or throwing the ball up in the air to a future pro like Rashaun Woods. Even though Zac had great receivers and backs himself, by the end of his career, everyone knew that the offense lived and breathed through Zac. It was no wonder he broke all the OSU QB records: he really was the pilot of the OSU attack.
In the same way, the limitations that OSU has suffered on offense must be in some way attributed to Zac as well. For all the good Zac has done, there are certain things about him that we should not want to repeat in future QB's. It is very well the case that Coach Gundy has got himself in trouble with conservative game plans and play calling in particular games, but without throwing Zac under the bus, many of Gundy's reservations centered on the capabilities of Zac. This is most obvious in games where Zac was hurt. Bedlam this year was an especially painful example of this, but the second half of the bowl game last year demonstrates this as well. Regardless of whether or not Gundy should have pulled Zac because he was too hurt (I supsect Gundy was trying not to attempt the bench-player-usuprs-starter pattern mentioned above, but who knows), it is obviously the case that Zac lays heavy on Gundy's mind when constructing a game plan.
But this does not stop simply with injuries. Zac has always had problems throwing deep, and when he did not have a Bowman, Pettigrew, or Bryant to throw to, his lack of touch on deep passes was especially evident. Ever wonder why Gundy seemed so fond of the bubble screen? At least part of it had to do with Zac's arm strength, the screen being a pass Gundy knew Zac could complete. Furthermore, although Zac has a reputation for being a "dual threat" QB, he was often frustrating to watch running the option. When he did get in a groove running he often got hurt (Texas Tech from this season is an easy example). Zac is both brave and tough, but this propensity to get hurt either shows that he has some fragile bones (which is not a knock...some tough guys just have brittle frames), or he runs rather mindlessly (something the coaches used to get on him about). All of this could be overlooked if Zac was a good "game manager" type QB, but Zac was also prone to untimely interceptions, sacks, and fumbles. I think the most honest assessment of Zac is that if he was just a little bit better passer (like a...gulp...McCoy) or just a little big better runner (like a Vince Young...sorry for the two Texas references), he would have been our breakthrough QB. Zac was like that run at OU...so close to the goal line, but not quite enough.
I really do think we stand at the brink of something. While appreciating Zac for all he has done, while looking forward to cheering him on as his finishes his Cowboy days with a bowl victory over Ole Miss, when it comes to what we want to do at QB, what we want to do with our offense, what we want to do with Cowboy football, we cannot look back. We have to take the next leap. If we are going to make the next jump, and honestly contend for the Big 12 Championship, we have to be willing to leave the past behind us. Zac was pivitol in our development, but he is not the blueprint of our future success. Let's not recruit a project QB. Let's not get a guy that's half passer/half running back, but not quite either (I am afraid this is what Alex Cate is). If we are going to ram the ball down people's throats, let start someone like a Weeden who can extend the field with the long ball, but leaves the running to the myriad of talented RB's we have. If we are going to be a true Texas Tech like spread, lets find out which one of these new kids has lazer sharp precision. If we are truly going to be an option team, lets get a kid who can burn it up and has the frame to take the abuse. Its time to take the next step. Zac, thank you for all you have done for this program. Hopefully, you really will be one of a kind in Cowboy football lore.
*Okay, for the nerds like me out there, the author was Ludwig Wittgenstein, at the end of his book "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus." For all of you who are severely disappointed that I mentioned a philosopher in a sports article, just imagine in your head a witty, mind-numbing pop culture reference someone like Bill Simmons would have made instead.