Luck who? Blackmon steals the spotlight

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not once this season did an

opposing receiver beat the Stanford defense for 100 yards or more. On Monday

night, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon did it in the second quarter.

In Oklahoma State’s 41-38 Fiesta Bowl victory, Blackmon reeled in three

touchdowns to lead the Cowboys and steal the spotlight in Stanford quarterback

Andrew Luck in the Heisman finalist’s final collegiate game.

As Oklahoma State celebrated the thrilling overtime win, Luck and Blackmon

embraced at midfield, undoubtedly overcome with very different emotions. Luck

is the consensus first pick in April’s NFL draft, and Blackmon might very well

be called next, having announced after the game that he will turn pro. On

Monday, though, it was Blackmon who came out on top, hoisting two trophies for

his efforts — the Fiesta Bowl winner’s trophy and the Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP

hardware.

“The win itself, getting the win for my teammates and all the seniors on

the team was enough,” said Blackmon, a junior. “I could’ve had no catches

and no touchdowns. As long as we won, I would have been excited.”

The Stanford defense knew exactly what it was up against in Blackmon, a two-time

Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top college receiver and a unanimous

All-American, but still had no answer for the extraordinarily athletic receiver;

at least not for four quarters.

As both defenses started the game strong, it looked like Blackmon might be

limited; he finished the first quarter without a single catch. But instead of

getting frustrated, Blackmon got motivated.

“I wouldn’t say I was mad, just irritated with what was going on,”

Blackmon said. “I knew we could play better, and I just tried to help the

team play as best as they could. If that takes me I guess getting mad, I guess

I’ll get mad and just go out there and do it.”

Blackmon caught four passes from Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden in

the second quarter, torching the Cardinal defense for 139 yards and two

touchdowns. One of those came for 67 yards, Blackmon’s longest catch of the

season. Then he got shut down again, finishing the third quarter with the same

line he took into half time.

But when the game was on the line, Blackmon displayed exactly what it takes to

succeed on the next level. With just under three-and-a-half minutes left in the

fourth quarter and Oklahoma State down 38-31, the Cowboys faced a crucial

fourth down with three yards to go at their own 40. A failure to convert

probably meant a loss.

Stanford had to know the ball was going to Blackmon, but there was nothing to

be done. Blackmon got enough separation across the middle for Weeden to connect

with him on a 21-yard completion to keep the drive alive. Three plays later the

score was knotted at 38 with 2:35 to play.

“He really stepped up and made big time plays like a big time player would

make,” Stanford cornerback Terrence Brown said. “We didn’t expect

anything different from him.”

As much as Stanford had to know where the ball was going, Weeden was certain.

“If I know it’s one on one, there is nobody really I throw it to other

than Blackmon, maybe (senior Josh) Cooper,” Weeden said. “In that

situation, I’m going to Blackmon 100 percent of the time.”

Ending the game with eight catches for 186 yards, Blackmon notched his seventh

100-plus yard receiving game of the season. It was the first time this season

he caught three touchdowns in a game, and the sixth time he caught more than

one.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy last week called Blackmon the best wide

receiver to play at the school and the best player it had seen since Hall of

Fame running back Barry Sanders. He reiterated that praise Monday, but said

he’s come to expect such performances from the receiver.

“He doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen him do it so many times,”

Gundy said. “To make big catches in crucial situations then make plays

with the ball in his hands when the other team knows he’s going to do it, it’s

pretty amazing, especially when team’s roll up on him like tonight.

“Stanford’s game plan, other than blitz, was to roll up and play a guy

down on him. He still finds a way to get open and get the ball, and the

quarterback finds a way to get it to him.”

In his dazzling performance Monday, Blackmon demonstrated the skills of a pro

playing on the college level. It’s hard to imagine an NFL team not tagging him

with a “sure thing” label.

Many tuned into Monday’s game for Luck, and they got it as the junior put on a

show worthy of a No. 1 draft pick. But more than Luck, they got Blackmon, a

player just as talented and just as likely to help reverse the fortunes of an

NFL franchise in the years to come.