For most of Oklahoma State’s 38-31 win over Iowa State on Saturday, the outlook seemed dim at best for the home team in Stillwater. At one point in the third quarter, the Cowboys were trailing by 17 points. Iowa State blew a 14-point lead against Baylor a week earlier. Everyone in Boone Pickens Stadium wondered if the Cyclones could hold this latest lead.
One man made sure they didn’t.
There was one constant in this win that allowed the Pokes to come back: James Washington. Everything else was just noise.
Mason Rudolph finished 26-of-44 for 351 yards and four touchdowns, but his production mostly stemmed from a revival in the fourth quarter. Most of the game he was playing from behind, completing under half his passes on the day and notching only one touchdown in the first 40 minutes.
No favors were done for Rudolph on the ground. OSU rushed for just 108 yards on 33 attempts. At least there weren’t any turnovers as was the case against Baylor, but 57 yards on 18 carries from leading rusher Justice Hill hardly made a difference. If there was one notable rush, it didn’t even come from a running back — it was Washington’s 16-yard reverse to close the third quarter.
Washington’s carry was particularly striking because it showed just how valuable an asset he is to Oklahoma State. Not only can he catch touch passes on his back shoulder as he did to close out the game, but coach Mike Gundy trusts him enough to act as a ball-carrier — his one carry went longer than any OSU rush beside Jeff Carr’s 33-yard gain. Carr might have had the longest run of the day, but Washington’s stood out more.
Washington came into this contest against Iowa State with four straight games over 60 yards. His total numbers: 579 yards and four touchdowns on 28 receptions. He ranked second in the Big 12 with 20.7 yards per reception, remarkable considering he had the second-most receptions in the conference as well. That combination — as a deep threat and a possession receiver — put him atop the conference in receiving yards.
Then came his tour de force against Iowa State: He finished the afternoon with 152 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.
All but one of those catches turned into a first down or touchdown, too. Not only has he put up big numbers, but his plays — whenever he makes them — come in the nick of time as well, rescuing Oklahoma State in a moment of urgency and importance. Moreover, it’s not uncommon to see Washington make the most important catches of the day off a bad throw (or very tightly placed pass) from Rudolph.
At six feet, Washington plays much bigger than his height would suggest. Gundy has even commented on how he plays a few inches taller than he should. While there are bigger targets in orange and black such as Chris Lacy, Washington is the resident vertical weapon and jump-ball threat.
Performances like this one against ISU and his 296-yard outing against Pittsburgh make Washington the best receiver in the conference and a likely Biletnikoff finalist. This story is even more compelling when considering that Washington was originally supposed to be out for the game after he was briefly knocked unconscious last week against Texas.
He came back from dead and was better than ever Saturday.
As a result, he brought his team back from the dead, too.