Based on the statistical, photographic and video evidence from the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, it's pretty good to be Justin Blackmon right about now. In a tour-de-force performance, Oklahoma State's standout wide receiver reeled in eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns, was named Fiesta Bowl MVP after his team defeated Stanford in overtime, and then declared for the 2012 NFL Draft on live television. Oh, he also, apparently, got the girl.
Not a bad night's (unpaid) work for a 21-year-old.
Of course, early on it looked like Blackmon's collegiate career was likely to end with a loss than a lip-lock. Before the Fiesta Bowl got underway, ESPN reported that Blackmon had been missed practice time during the week and was dealing with an infection on his thigh and been taking antibiotics and anti-inflammatories all week long.
The report on Blackmon's infection was followed shortly by this ominous pre-game tweet from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad. Both of those where then followed up by a first quarter in which Blackmon went without a catch and the Cowboys' offense looked all out of sorts.
Not only had Blackmon not gotten his hands on the football, but Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden completed his first passing attempt of the game -- to the Stanford defense. Andrew Luck, meanwhile, uncorked a beautiful, long-range touchdown throw on his third possession of the game to give Stanford a 7-0 lead. Luck and his retinue of offensive contributors would stretch the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. And, still, Blackmon had yet to touch the ball. Before the game, Stanford coach David Shaw was well aware that the key to winning the Fiesta Bowl was stopping the junior wideout who has twice been awarded the Biletnikoff Award as the FBS's most outstanding wide receiver.
"For us, it starts with No. 81," Shaw told USA Today. "He's as good a college receiver as you will ever find. He's got the size, he's got the speed, he's got unbelievable ball skills, body control and explosion after the catch."
The 6-foot-1-inch wide receiver used all of those impressive attributes to record 113 receptions for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season before taking the field in Phoenix. Whether sapped by illness or subdued by defenders, those skills were glaringly absent from the early stages of the game as Weeden couldn't seem to find his stud wideout. Trailing, 14-0, Weeden finally unholstered his most dangerous weapon, whistling a ball to Blackmon as he blazed up the left seam. No. 81 caught it in stride and sliced right through the zone defense in the secondary en route to getting his team on the scoreboard.
Speed? Check. Unbelievable ball skills? Check. Body Control? Check? Explosion after the catch? Check. Say what you want about the Stanford coach's insistence on running on first down nearly every time, but there's no doubt that his scouting report on Blackmon was spot on.
Having finally located Blackmon, Weeden didn't waste time in getting the ball back to him the next time that Cowboys' offense was on the field. After handing off to running back John Randle on the first play of that drive -- coming after the Cowboys' defense forced a three and out -- Blackmon snagged a short pass on a slant route and exploded through the defense for a 67-yard touchdown.
Just like that, Blackmon had a pair of catches for more than 100 yards and a pair of scores. And, just like that, Oklahoma State had pulled level with Stanford. Piloting the rock-steady Stanford offense like a race car driver in a restrictor plate series, Luck was his usual overpowering, efficient self. He looked every bit the No. 1 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft but he couldn't seem to reach any speed fast enough to keep Blackmon out of his rearview mirror.
Trailing, 31-24, early in the fourth quarter, it was again Blackmon scoring a game-tying touchdown, again using his head as much as his physical attributes to find the soft spots in the defense for Weeden to then find him.
Luck would not change, though, leading another Stanford scoring drive. Facing 4th and 3 from their own 40-yard line, OK State coach Mike Gundy opted to go for it rather than punt with slightly more than four and a half minutes remaining -- certainly the masculine call most likely to be made by a man in his forties. With the game hanging in the balance, Weeden hit Blackmon on another slant that went for 21 yards. Although Randle would score the latest game-tying touchdown and Quinn Sharp would ultimately kick the game-winning field goal in overtime, there was no doubt that Blackmon's Herculean effort over the game's final three quarters made all the difference.
When the game ended, ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox corralled Blackmon and Weeden amidst the celebratory scrum on the field. Asked, again, whether he was going to declare for the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft, Blackmon calmly and articulately gave the answer that general managers for every team with a top draft pick have been waiting to hear.
Whether casually delivering a scoop to ESPN or scooping up a cheerleader like a leading man in the climatic moments of a film (of course, this presumes that this blond cheerleading coed was an eager participant in the amorous moment), Blackmon hardly seemed overwhelmed by the moment. Considering that he used to drum in his high school band during the halftime of the games that he was starring in (until his coach asked him to stop and join the team in the locker room), it should come as no surprise that Blackmon has no trouble multi-tasking on gameday. The president of his senior class while attending Plainview High School in Oklahoma, Blackmon patrolled the postgame scene with the cool of someone clearly at home in the spotlight.
Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes was among the many home viewers marveling at Blackmon's performance and postgame panache.
Just to be sure, we checked with Hawes about his take on Blackmon's announcement.
While leaving the outcome of his final game at Stanford to the foot of a redshirt freshman kicker may not be the manner in which Luck had hoped to -- or perhaps even deserved too -- conclude his collegiate career, there was no denying the irrepressible Blackmon on this stage. He had too many things to accomplish. Savage, indeed.
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