OU and OSU roll over their non-conference opponents on Saturday.
PITTSBURGH — Tyron Johnson was left at home for disciplinary reasons. Chris Lacy went out with an injury on the second series of the game. James Washington was held without a catch until the second quarter.
What, exactly, was the Oklahoma State offense going to do with its vaunted group of receivers facing such adversity?
Run wild. Set records. Score touchdowns on its first seven possessions and dominate even more than some might’ve expected had the Cowboys been at full strength.
Well before ninthranked OSU’s 59-21 blitzing of Pittsburgh was complete, the Cowboys had four receivers with more than 100 receiving yards — even Washington, who Pitt seemed determined to limit, if not eliminate, from the Cowboys’ gameplan.
Pitt didn’t deviate significantly from its usual defensive scheme, but regularly had a safety drifting over to provide additional coverage on Washington.
For that, Jalen McCleskey should send the Panthers a thank you card.
The junior slot receiver — who led the Cowboys in receptions a year ago — came into the game with five catches for 17 yards, searching to get back in rhythm with quarterback Mason Rudolph.
By halftime on Saturday, McCleskey had 162 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches. Washington had five grabs for 124 yards, all in OSU’s 28-point second quarter. Marcell Ateman caught four for 109 and Dillon Stoner had five for 100, each scoring once. Rudolph threw for 497 yards and five scores.
“Going into each week, you have to figure that
teams are maybe going to do something to stop James, because he’s such a great player,” McCleskey said. “Me, Marcell, Chris, Dillon, we’ve got to know if they’re gonna do that, we’re gonna be the ones to have to make the plays.
“Today, they just left the middle open, and I was able to make plays.”
Each week, OSU will see something new from opposing defenses. An altered secondary scheme, new blitzes, different formations.
“When you’ve got James Washington on one side, you always go through the what-if,” Rudolph said, listing off the potential defenses an opponent might show. “It’s hard to change who you are in one week. Teams do what they do because they’re good at it.
“That’s what Pitt did, and we made them pay in some situations.”
Washington is the star of the receiver show. A preseason All-American and potential first-round NFL Draft pick. Yet OSU led 28-0 before he ever touched the ball.
“It’s not just me, it’s all of the receivers,” Washington said. “That was a great example of what I’m talking about today. You double one guy, we have four other guys we can hit at any time.”
The phrase “pick your poison” comes up a lot in conversations about the OSU receivers. And it might be just that: pick whoever you want to stop, and watch the others shred you.
“We’ve got a lot of schemes designed for slot guys, or outside guys,” Rudolph said. “Everyone really clicked today. They all did their job. If we keep doing that, it’s going to take us far.”
OSU receivers Marcell Ateman, left, and Jalen McCleskey celebrate one of the Cowboys’ seven first-half touchdowns.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Dillon Stoner breaks away from Pittsburgh defensive back Dennis Briggs on his way to a first-quarter touchdown on Saturday.