STILLWATER, Okla. — James Washington came into the season as the standout receiver for No. 6 Oklahoma State. Now he has a lot of company among the Cowboys' talented group of wide receivers.
Four OSU wideouts, including Washington, recorded at least 100 yards receiving in Oklahoma State's 59-21 victory over Pittsburgh, as Heisman Trophy candidate Mason Rudolph threw for 497 yards and five touchdowns, all in the first half.
That was the first time in school history more than two receivers reached 100 yards in the same game and the first time any team had four since Texas Tech in 2005.
"Going into the year, we felt good about the group we have, and they're competitive," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "We've got young guys who are making plays. They're unselfish. The depth allows us to save legs and keep them fresh throughout the game. Mason's done a good job, with the exception of the one interception he threw, in distributing the ball, based on what the defense gives us."
Seven Cowboys caught the ball on Saturday, four had 100+ yds on the day. #Okstate is WIDE RECEIVER U!! #GoPokes #CowboyUp18 #CowboyUp19 pic.twitter.com/tKl79tDvJL— Oklahoma State FB (@CowboyFB_Elite) September 18, 2017
The Cowboys play their Big 12 opener Saturday against No. 16 TCU.
While Washington had five receptions for 124 yards against Pitt, he didn't make his first catch until late in the second quarter, when Oklahoma State was already ahead 35-0. Pitt clearly made a tactical decision to eliminate Washington, one of the favorites for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, as a threat, so Rudolph simply found other open receivers.
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Junior Jalen McCleskey had seven receptions for 162 yards and three touchdowns, while freshman Dillon Stoner had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown and senior Marcell Ateman pulled down four catches for 109 yards and a TD.
"They're unselfish, that's really the biggest characteristic that helps you because they understand work ethic, they care for one another, they like to see each other succeed," OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "That's really important. It makes it fun to coach, because you're not stressed. It doesn't matter. Whoever's open gets it, whatever coverage they're going to roll to, you go the other way. You can't predict it and you just go through the progressions and let the quarterback do what he does, and it makes it easier for everybody."
McCleskey attributed his breakout performance, in which he achieved career-highs in yards and touchdowns, to Rudolph simply going to the open man. After recording a team-leading 73 receptions last year for 812 yards (second to Washington's 1,380) and seven touchdowns (second to Washington's 10), McCleskey had just five catches for 17 yards in Oklahoma State's first two games.
It was a dominant win for the Cowboys yesterday. Check out the cinematic highlights: pic.twitter.com/nz73Vxr9ws— Cowboy Football (@CowboyFB) September 17, 2017
"Whenever they take something away, the other (receivers) have to step up and make plays, and that's what we did," McCleskey said. "Whatever they give us, we're going to take it. So the first two games, James and (Ateman), they had big games, and this game was just mine."
Stoner, lining up mostly as a slot receiver, also set personal bests in receptions and yards, and recorded his first career receiving touchdown (he did throw one last year before he was redshirted). He entered the day with six catches for 42 yards.
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Ateman, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, continued his stellar season. Through three games he is tied with Washington for the team lead with 13 receptions and is second with 235 yards.
"They know one day they might get eight touches and the next day it might be only three," Yurcich said of the group. "And they understand who's getting double-covered and who's open, and we can only snap one ball on each play. They get it and they're a very talented group."