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Rudolph to Washington, One Last Time

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What do you think about when a Mason Rudolph touchdown to James Washington is airborne? There has maybe never been more total minutes of ball-in-air time per throw between a quarterback and wide receiver in college football history.

Big, momentous throws from one of the best to ever toss it to one of the best to ever catch it. Those long tosses seemed to float above BPS forever before they landed in a furious explosion of noise that defensive coordinators hear in their sleep.

There seems to be an almost imperceptible pause between when Washington gets a beat on whatever poor defensive back he’s roasting and when Rudolph sees that Washington has a beat. It’s tiny, barely recognizable on television, but it’s the catalyst for a thousand people to think ten thousand different things. Rudolph locks in, everybody sees it at the same time, time stands still.

What did you think about in that moment?

“I usually fist pump and then hold my breath and then usually give a high five,” said offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich about what he thinks. “I don’t want to sound arrogant with that. They’re special players. They’ve had a lot of success.”

There are certain Rudolph-to-Washington TDs that stand out. The one against Pittsburgh in 2016 maybe most of all. The one against OU this year.

There are so many. So many corners that he’s beaten. So many referees who have been the first to touch the ball after Rudolph and Washington get done putting it across the goal line.

“I just know it’s a touchdown,” said Marcell Ateman about what he thinks when he sees Rudolph cock back and try to pull off the impossible: Out-toss No. 28. “That’s money every day of the week. To see what they’ve done here, the accomplishments they’ve had. I feel blessed to be a part of that.”

Everybody thinks something.

“I’m just glad I’m on the sideline,” said Tre Flowers about what he thinks. “I’m glad I’m not the DB covering them. It’s always a great ball and always a great catch. I feel like they just got better over the years, and it was a great thing. I’m glad I got to witness it.”

Washington loped unimpeded for the 38th (and possibly final) time of his career on Saturday against KU. A 30-yard mini version of some of the bigger bombs. Not all of them have been from Rudolph, but all of the great ones have been.

You could sense throughout the day that they were dying for one final connection. One final memory, partly to validate the rest of them, partly because you always want to leave the gym having made your last shot.

They got it at the start of the third quarter.

“It was cool to greet him in the end zone, celebrate together and share that moment,” said Rudolph. “He’s going to have a lot more touchdown catches to come.”

Everybody thinks something.

I often looked away. There was no point in watching. I had a statistic to update or a tweet to formulate. If Washington had even a half step, it was basically over. They did it so many times over the course of their careers, that it felt like it became part of the playbook. Not “deep pass to Washington” but “long TD to Washington.” We can’t get anything going, Mike, what should we call? How about the TD play?

They did it so many times that it’s so easy to imagine Washington plowing right through the west stands and running right down Highway 51 to the rest of his life. It was so easy for them. In a complex world that demands difficult decisions, they were like children in the street against other, much less-talented children.

Everybody thinks something. Other coaches thought four-letter words. OSU fans thought about Ws. Parents thought about glory. Strength coaches thought about the spring and summer. Recruits thought, That could be me.

Everybody thought something, but what did this punisher of secondaries think when everybody else was thinking about him? What did the three-time 1,000-yard receiver think as everybody stared at him and the ball and let loose those short little gasps that always precede a tidal wave of elation? What did he think about as the ball unraveled over this place that he helped build?

What did he think when his quarterback thought about racing after him and his coordinator had a fist in the air and his receivers knew it was over?

He thought the simplest thought, which is fitting because that’s how he made it look.

“In my mind,” said James Washington on Saturday after the 38th touchdown of his storied career, “I’m saying ‘Just catch it.'”

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