Savage is not comfortable in front of a microphone, and has not attended any of the seven weekly news conferences held on Mondays since the season began.
“Savage and all those guys never talk,” Gundy said Monday. “Kendall will be worse (than Savage). I haven’t heard Kendall say two words in six months.”
Gundy hopes that Savage, a 22-year-old senior from Columbus, Ga., and Hunter, a 19-year-old freshman from Tyler, Texas, let their play do their talking Saturday when Oklahoma State makes the trip to Nebraska for the Big 12 Conference showdown.
The Cowboys will be looking to win for the first time in Lincoln, Neb., since 1960. OSU has lost the last 20 times it has played at Nebraska, including a 17-7 loss to open the 2003 season – the last time the Cowboys made the trip north to Lincoln.
Oklahoma State, 3-3, will have its best chance to win at Nebraska, 4-2 following last week’s 41-6 loss at Missouri, in many years – thanks to the Cowboy running game.
Hunter has rushed for a team-best 441 yards (including 82 yards on just 10 carries this past weekend at Texas A&M) while Savage has run for 410 yards, including three consecutive 100-plus yard performances (110 vs. A&M, 115 vs. Sam Houston State, and 130 vs. Texas Tech) since returning from an early season groin injury.
The Cowboys average 234.5 rushing yards a game, and will be facing a Nebraska defense that is ranked 97th out of 119 Division I-A teams. The Cornhuskers are allowing 190.5 rushing yards per game, including 195 by Missouri in this past weekend’s 35-point loss. USC ran for 309 yards in a 49-31 victory on Sept. 15.
Savage has been outstanding since missing two games (vs. Florida Atlantic and Troy), but the play of Hunter has been the biggest surprise. Gundy admitted Monday that the coaching staff expected him to redshirt this season.
“We thought he was a steal (when we signed him in February). We thought he was a very good player who probably got overlooked because he was 5-foot-whatever he is … not very big,” Gundy said of the 5-8, 190-pounder who a year ago was playing for John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. “When we got him we were excited because we thought he has the ability to run fast straight ahead, and go sideways and not lose a step. Not very many guys can do that.”
Hunter did not play in the season opener against Georgia but was forced into action as Keith Toston’s backup when Savage was sidelined for the Florida Atlantic game. He carried the ball just eight times in the Cowboys’ win over the Owls, and was the team’s workhouse the next week against Troy (rushing for 125 yards on 16 carries) when Toston fumbled twice.
“In the first couple of games he was stopping in the hole and was looking (around). Now he’s getting a better feel for the speed of the game at this level, and kind of working his way through. His vision is better,” Gundy said.
Hunter also had 113 rushing yards in OSU’s win over Texas Tech to become the first OSU freshman to run for more than 100 yards in two consecutive games since Jamaal Fobbs did it in 1997. He is ranked third in the Big 12 with 88.2 yards per game, which puts him at No. 46 nationally.
Plus, his 7.7-yards-per-carry average leads the Big 12, and ranks him second behind only Felix Jones of Arkansas (10.52) among the nation’s top 100 rushers.
“Any true freshman that competes at a high level in this league surprises me,” Gundy said when asked about Hunter’s first six college games. “The advantage of Kendall is that he falls into the same category as a (Brandon) Pettigrew or an Andrew Lewis – he loves to play football. He’s very durable and he’s tough. He does whatever you ask him. Normally the guys that do that not only have success on Saturdays, but they’re a joy to coach.
"Now you guys won’t like him because he won’t say a word," Gundy said to members of the media. "He never says a word. But I wouldn’t trade him. He’s a good player.”