Parker Washington Earned His Stripes In Magical Performance Against Ohio State

Heading into Penn State football’s pivotal midseason bout with No. 2 Ohio State, plenty of prominent pregame storylines focused on how James Franklin’s secondary could keep the Buckeyes’ army of generational pass catchers in check. 

Between Marvin Harrison Jr.’s matchup with Joey Porter Jr., Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s ongoing status with a nagging hamstring injury, and Emeka Egbuka’s recent emergence with the second-most receiving yards in the Big Ten, most of the attention seemed to spotlight position coach Brian Hartline’s opposing troops. 

However, after a relatively quiet opening stretch of matchups to begin his junior campaign, one route runner donning the blue and white stole most of the limelight throughout Saturday afternoon’s back-and-forth battle. 

Early and often, wide receiver Parker Washington cemented himself as the Nittany Lions’ most reliable and potent offensive weapon at Sean Clifford’s disposal. Ultimately, the Texas native finished the matchup with 11 receptions for 179 yards — going toe-to-toe with Harrison Jr., who currently stands as a projected first-round NFL draft talent.

While not many expected Washington to have a marquee, breakout outing in a matchup featuring a flurry of elite route runners, Franklin reiterated that this facet of Washington’s skillset isn’t newly adopted. 

“He’s made plays, really, his entire career here,” Franklin said. “He’s a contested catch guy, he’s got the ability to make you miss, he’s a really good route runner, and has been productive. So, he had some opportunities [against Ohio State] to make some plays, [and] he made those plays. Obviously, I have a ton of respect for Parker and the type of player he is.” 

Despite picking up a pair of receptions for 15 yards on the Nittany Lions’ opening drive, Washington and the offense failed to match the defense’s imminent intensity directly out of the gate. Through three drives, Clifford tossed two interceptions and warranted just one first down on a five-play stretch to cap off the third series. 

The lack of immediate production put the Nittany Lions in a treacherous 10-0 hole against the second-ranked scoring offense nationally, a spot where Ohio State has exposed under-matched opponents all season. 

Needing an instant spark to jumpstart a potential early comeback attempt, Clifford turned to his trusty pass catcher, who, for most of the game, was isolated in single-coverage across from Ohio State cornerback JK Johnson. 

“I told him at the beginning of the game that I’m going to definitely give him his shots [and] put it up there because I knew that they’re a man [defensive] team,” Clifford said. “They like to play man, [and] I knew that we were going to have our chances. So, I told Parker, I said ‘Hey, man, big players make big plays in big games, so that’s you.’”

With the Nittany Lions’ backs against the wall, the Clifford to Washington connection accounted for 72 yards on their fourth sequence of the afternoon, including a smooth 58-yard touchdown. 

The score, which put Penn State in a manageable three-point hole, featured Washington breaking a pair of tackles, and taking the short, routine slant 52 yards after contact for his longest touchdown of the campaign. 

“I was just excited to make a play for the team,” Washington said. “It was a big moment. We already had faced some adversity early, and being able to strike back with a big play was exciting. I just want to be able to help the team as much as I can. I know they have my back, and they trust me, and I trust them.”

From there, the Nittany Lions’ attack shook off their first-quarter impediments by mounting another promising six-play touchdown drive in consecutive fashion. 

While Washington didn’t find the end zone again, the star receiver helped keep the chains moving by picking up a game-changing diving grab toward the Ohio State sideline. Three plays later, Clifford found KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 23-yard touchdown bullet, ultimately giving the Nittany Lions a 14-13 lead heading into the locker room. 

Although 10-yard grabs typically don’t wow stat sheet glancers after the game’s conclusion, Clifford believes Washington’s recently grown accustomed to making difficult conversions appear routine. 

“[He] worked really hard this week with a majority of guys,” Clifford said. “But, you know, [with] Parker being a leader in that room, I thought he did a really good job of stepping up in the moment and making those [impact] plays.”

Even with defensive adjustments, Washington continued to expose Jim Knowles’ coverage scheme with six catches for 79 yards in the second half. While cultivating nearly two games worth of production in the first and second halves alone wasn’t enough to stave off a 28-point fourth-quarter onslaught from the Buckeyes, Washington certainly proved that he deserves to be in the discussion regarding the conference’s most impactful pass catchers. 

Still, the effort left much to be desired for Washington, who feels as though there’s still plenty to play for despite his squad’s current 6-2 record. While conference title hopes and a College Football Playoff berth remain a pipe dream for yet another year, the rising route runner knows the Nittany Lions have plenty left in the tank to close out an attainable 10-win clip. 

“Similar to [after the] Michigan week, I feel like we’re going to stay together at the end of the day…,” Washington said. “Yes, we’re going to look at the corrections tomorrow, so that will be our time to look at the past. But once it’s over with, we’re going to move on and finish this year as strong as possible.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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