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OSU football analysis: James Washington’s efficiency continues to defy logic

October 16, 2017

STILLWATER -- Conventional wisdom would insist that a team that throws the ball deep downfield more often will end up with a lower completion percentage. Shorter throws are safer, longer throws carry more risk. It’s common sense.

Mike Gundy acknowledged this himself Saturday when talking about Mason Rudolph.

“The difference with him and other quarterbacks is he’s going to have six or seven incompletions because we throw the ball 50 yards down the field all the time,” Gundy said.

James Washington continues to defy common sense.

In OSU’s 59-16 thumping of Baylor Saturday, Washington caught six passes. Those receptions went for an average of 39.2 yards -- or 235 yards total. One, a 68-yard touchdown, epitomized everything that makes Washington the clear-cut Biletnikoff Award favorite: He read the coverage pre-snap, created separation down the middle of the field, actually accelerated through the football as he caught it and escaped a defender with a stiff arm to finish the touchdown with some yards after the catch.

On the whole, though, Washington’s 235-yard day became sort of … unheralded. It was not the main story of OSU’s 43-point win.

It was something the Oklahoma State faithful has come to expect from the senior receiver -- the numbers no longer pop off the box score.

But the numbers should, because what Washington is doing in 2017 is not normal.

Including the win Saturday, Washington now has 34 catches for 882 yards -- or 25.9 yards per catch, easily the most among any player with at least 20 receptions.

To paint a picture of how crazy that statistic is: Since 2000, no player has finished a season with 50 receptions and an average of 25 yards per reception.

Only two players since 2000 have made 40 receptions with that average: Tulsa’s Brennan Marion in 2008 and Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas in 2009.

Washington will surely catch 40. Barring catastrophe, he will catch 50. If the big plays continue, he’s got a chance to finish this season with a statline we haven’t seen before.

That might not be the craziest part.

Remember that thought about conventional wisdom, the idea that the more times one throws deep, the more incompletions he will throw?

Washington’s 34 receptions have come on 46 targets. Rudolph is completing his throws to Washington 73.9 percent of the time.

That shouldn’t happen.

Part of it is the Rudolph-Washington connection, one that has been building since the quarterback entered the huddle (yes, OSU huddled that game) for the first time late in the 2014 season.

Part of it is what makes Washington a future pro.

“Just his ability to track the football and run through the football,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “I think that’s what separates him from a lot of guys is he has so much confidence in his hands, his body doesn’t have to slow down. In fact, it looks like he accelerates through the ball. The quarterback puts it in a place where he can accelerate through the football. That’s really key on any long ball or explosive completion.”