James Washington said earlier this week that Texas Tech never offered him a scholarship despite an All-State playing career just a couple of hours down the road from Lubbock at Stamford High School in West Texas. The Red Raiders are probably second guessing that decision after the standout sophomore scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to help the 12th-ranked Cowboys overcome a 17-point deficit – tying for the second-largest comeback in school history – for a 70-53 victory on Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock.
The 6-foot sophomore receiver had scored only two touchdowns in the Cowboys first seven games of the season, but he came up with that many in less than five minutes on Saturday in Lubbock. His 75-yard run on a reverse in the fourth quarter increased OSU’s lead to 56-45, and then just a few minutes later his 73-yard catch and run of a J.W. Walsh pass all but sewed up the win for the Cowboys with 3:50 remaining.
"These are really special young men," OSU head coach Mike Gundy said in his postgame radio interview on the Cowboys Sports Network. "As I said in the postgame (media interview), it's just enjoyable to be around them. We could talk about this and the plays forever, we don't have enough air time, to talk about all the different (big) plays.
"The defensive coaches did a tremendous job at halftime, and our players who have been trained, we work on mental awareness and clearing your mind ... they were able to put it on display in the second half. If they can't think and absorb because they are frustrated mentally then their not going to be able to make adjustments. That was really important. Well, you say they gave up however many yards but they gave up most of those yards in the first half. That adjustment worked."
The Cowboys, 8-0 for only the third time in school history, now enter the month of November with a chance to win the Big 12 title, beginning next Saturday when fifth-ranked TCU (8-0) comes to Stillwater and Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys remaining regular season games also include at Iowa State (Nov. 14), vs. Baylor (Nov. 21) and vs. Oklahoma (Nov. 28).
But in a game that saw the two teams combine for 123 points, 1,304 total yards and 61 first downs, this one started out with the Red Raiders (5-4) scoring on their first four possessions – and a kickoff return – to go up 31-14 early in the second quarter.
The OSU defense gave up an average of 8.7 per play in the first half as the Red Raiders took a 38-28 halftime lead. But Glenn Spencer’s crew rose to the challenge in the second half, and the Cowboys offense – behind the play of Walsh (249 total yards, 3 TDs) and Mason Rudolph (284 total yards, 2 TDs) – put up the most points since scoring 84 against Savannah State in the 2012 season opener.
Rudolph was 21-of-35 passing for 285 yards and touchdown passes to Austin Hays and Brandon Sheperd. Walsh was 4-of-5 passing for 167 yards and two TD passes, while also leading the Cowboys with 80 rushing yards and another score on just eight carries.
"Mike [Yurcich] and the offensive staff did a tremendous job in the game plan, quarterback rotation again," Gundy said. The question comes up about why so much J.W. in the third quarter and fourth quarter. Because we have that plan in and we have to use it, otherwise it doesn't do any good to practice it. Mason was good today ... and he had at least three drops (by receivers). the long and short of it, he's going to be 25 of 35 for 300 (yards) but we had some drops. He played good. He had the one interception, he didn't see the guy and threw it right to him.
"But then J.W. comes in and we're able to run the football effectively. The ability to work the quarterbacks in, and the ability to hit big plays ... "
But perhaps the biggest play of the game came from one of the smallest players on the field – 5-10, 156-pound freshman Jalen McCleskey, whose 67-yard punt return midway through the third quarter pulled the Cowboys within 38-35.
The Cowboys took their first lead of the game at 42-38 later in the third quarter on walk-on running back Raymond Taylor’s 28-yard touchdown run.
"It speaks to the maturity of our football team," Walsh said. "We didn't come out and play very good in the first quarter, the first couple series of the game, and the leadership started to take over. We knew we were never out of the game. We knew we always had a chance. The way we stuck in there and fought was just ... all the games we've had this year we've had to fight and comeback or something, and our football team is extremely mature and extremely unselfish. We just fight, fight to the end."