Big 12 Report: Justin Blackmon Becomes Big-Play Threat at Oklahoma State
It came without much notice. But this past offseason, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon began to work a little harder during conditioning drills.
He then pushed himself during spring ball and even into fall camp maybe just a little more than the other Cowboys receivers did. The motivation that was out there was a chance to step into the spotlight in a new offense that is a receiver's dream.
"I just knew it was going to be an opportunity," Blackmon said. "We really didn't have a solid go-to receiver so it was going to be open. I also knew it was going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays with the new offense we've got in this year."
Let's just say Blackmon, a virtual unknown a year ago, has taken full advantage and become the catalyst that has made the undefeated and 17th-ranked Cowboys (6-0, 2-0 Big 12) one of the biggest surprises of the season. Blackmon, a sophomore, leads the nation in receiving yards per game (159.2), touchdown catches (12) and shares the lead with 13 points per game.
A year ago, he was buried in the shadow of the Dez Bryant controversy as a talented but unproven redshirt freshman. Blackmon is now recognized as one of the best big-play receivers in the nation.
There is no doubt the impact he has made as a weapon in the Cowboys' new spread attack this season.
"Any player who has big-play capability certainly changes the approach on offense," said OSU coach Mike Gundy, whose team prepares to host Nebraska on Saturday in a key Big 12 matchup of North and South teams.
"When you have the kind of success as Justin, I would think their first goal is to take away what he does best, which should allow other players to have success. He has big-play capability which can change a game and has several times this year."
Blackmon made perhaps the play of the game to seal last Saturday's 34-17 win over Texas Tech when he went up for a Brandon Weeden pass over the Red Raiders' defender and came down with the ball for a 62-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Blackmon finished with a career high in receiving yards with 207 on 10 catches, which earned him Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week recognition Monday.
But more important, it put the 6-foot-1 receiver in a special place in Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville's book.
"He has no fear. He can catch it across the middle, he can catch post routes or short routes and breaks tackles. Those are qualities of a great receiver," Tuberville said. "He's physical and he uses his physical attributes and he can jump."
Blackmon, who has 57 catches for 955 yards and is averaging 16.8 per catch, is drawing comparisons to Bryant and Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, who starred in this offense while with the Red Raiders. That's a great honor, but not a goal for Blackmon.
"I don't really think about it, but a lot of people I am getting compared to are real great receivers," he said. "I don't see myself at that level yet. I feel like I still have a lot of work to do but it's great to be compared to those receivers."
The first BCS rankings of 2010 season were filled with surprises this week, but none was bigger than the Oklahoma Sooners being the No.1 team in the rankings that are a combination of human and computer polls.
The biggest debate up until Monday had been whether it would be Oregon or Boise State at the top and whether or not the deciders of the national championship game have the guts to pick the Broncos as one of the top two teams. But if the BCS national title game were to be played this weekend, it would be Oregon and Oklahoma deciding the national champ.
Much of the reason the Sooners, who up until this week had not been mentioned in the same breath as the national title, find themselves in this situation is because of gutsy scheduling. Oklahoma scheduled automatic qualifiers Florida State and Cincinnati in non-conference this season – a virtual no-no in major college scheduling these days. The third-ranked Sooners (6-0, 2-0) also have a quality win over the Texas Longhorns in league play and are now set up for a showdown of undefeated teams Saturday when they travel to No. 18 Missouri.
"We are product of our athletic director Joe Castiglione and coach Bob Stoops' thought process on scheduling quality opponents. We've done that for years," OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said during Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "It goes back to 2004 when there were several undefeated teams, but we were in the championship game because of our strength of schedule.
"We've always embraced playing the strong teams. Being able to win and being able to play a reasonably strong schedule has gotten us to that BCS thing."
But obviously with a relatively young team, the Sooners coaching staff has tried not to harp on the unexpected national spotlight that was thrust on them this week.
"We haven't talked anything about rankings," Wilson said.
"As far as our goals and things we are trying to accomplish," Wilson continued, "that has not even made our list of things we are concerned with or talking about prior to last week, this week or in weeks to come."
But if there is a program that is probably suited for such attention, it would be the Sooners, who have been here before under Stoops. They also have players like quarterback Landry Jones, running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, who are equipped to deal with the attention.
"We have been a part of this before but it doesn't matter if you don't continue to improve, invest, play each game as best you can," Wilson said. "It's not coach-speak or playing each game at a time, but our teams have gotten better and gotten stronger as the year went on."
Texas A&M QB Job May Be Up for Grabs
For weeks, Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman has stood behind senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
Sherman changed his tune some this week with the Aggies (3-3, 0-3 Big 12) in the midst of a three-game losing streak after coming off a dismal offensive performance during Saturday's 30-9 home loss to Missouri. Quarterback-turned-reliable-receiver Ryan Tannehill could get a chance to start this week at Kansas.
"It's like every position, we have open competition every single week and this week is no exception," Sherman said when asked about Johnson's job security.
That is a decidedly different tune than the one Sherman has sung all season even when Johnson has struggled. But it's hard to overlook the offensive struggles the Aggies are having, especially at the quarterback spot where Johnson has committed costly interceptions and turnovers.
The offense surrendered nine turnovers combined in consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, with most coming from Johnson. The offense didn't have any turnovers against Missouri, but couldn't get anything going during the competitive part of the game.
Johnson, who was the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, was just 15 of 31 for 141 yards going into the fourth quarter. He finished with 322 yards on 27 of 48 passing for the game.
For the season, Johnson has completed 146 of 259 passes for 1,808 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"I believe in Jerrod Johnson," Sherman said. "He's a leader on our team, he's averaging 300 yards a game, I trust him, I have confidence in him and I believe in him."
The question is, do Johnson's teammates and the Aggie faithful feel the same?
Baylor Closes in on Bowl Eligibility
To say it has been a long time coming for Baylor would be a huge understatement.
But it appears the Bears' bowl drought could be over. Following Saturday's impressive win at Colorado, Baylor (5-2, 2-1) needs just one more win to qualify for a bowl.
The Bears, who last played in a bowl game in 1994, could achieve the milestone Saturday at home against Kansas State. It might be difficult from there with tough games at Texas and Oklahoma State followed by home games against rival Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
"For every university it's important, not just Baylor in particular," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "I am sure on everybody's goal board, that's one of them up there. From that standpoint, it would be much appreciated at this stage of the season."
Baylor, which is averaging 33.1 points and 486.1 yards per game with quarterback Robert Griffin leading the way, perhaps made the biggest statement about where it is headed as a program against the Buffaloes. The Bears needed to make plays in the fourth quarter on the road to secure the 31-25 win.
"It's one way to get experience. You can't buy it or wish for it. You have to live it," Briles said. "I think that was a good maturing game for us. You have to have one or two of those games over the course of a season or two to give yourselves a chance to go to the next level. From that standpoint, it was a huge win for us."
Longhorns Confident Again
It seems that Saturday's stunning upset victory at Nebraska did more than stem a potential three-game losing streak for the Texas Longhorns.
It returned something more important.
"The game gets our swagger back, it shows us that we can be back where we've been, we just have to play well as a team together and play with confidence," said UT coach Mack Brown, whose team returned to the Top 25 this week at No. 22 after a brief absence. "We did not have a turnover in the game, we did not give up a sack in the game. So those are things that have been killing us.
"Now what we will do, we have a mix of younger and older players so hopefully the younger ones will mature and grow up a little bit. Now we have to see if we can play well again this week with people bragging on us because we've got to put together two good weeks in a row."
Terrance Harris is a senior writer for FanHouse. You can reach him at email@example.com or please follow him at Twitter.com/thatbig12writer.