Parker Washington emerges as the No. 1 wide receiver in 44-31 loss to Ohio State
Over the past few seasons, Penn State has always had an elite receiver with KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson.
Even when the Nittany Lions struggled last year, Dotson provided the offense with big play after big play.
With Dotson playing on Sundays, the Nittany Lions needed someone to step into his role as the premiere receiver.
Parker Washington showed flashes of being that elite pass catcher after recording seven catches, 70 yards and his first touchdown of the year against Minnesota.
Despite the 44-31 loss against Ohio State, Washington broke out, setting career highs in catches and yards with 11 and 179, respectively.
The Sugar Land, Texas, native became the first receiver this season to reach the century mark in receiving yards and the first since Dotson had 137 at Michigan State last year.
“I think it helps when you can move the ball down the field and kind of get those big chunk plays and those routine plays,” tight end Theo Johnson said. “I think he's been doing a really good job for us, and I think it gives our offense a spark for sure.”
After two interceptions and a punt on Penn State’s opening three drives, it needed a spark finding itself down 10 at the start of the second quarter.
Just minutes into the second, the blue and white got the spark it so desperately needed.
Clifford connected with Washington on a curl route, but Washington broke away from two Buckeye defenders and raced into the end zone for a 58-yard score.
The elusiveness and big play ability Washington displayed is something that has been missing from the passing attack all campaign.
Clifford targeted his star receiver often on Saturday and especially on third down. Including the 58-yard touchdown, Clifford looked Washington’s way on five of 16 third downs.
Clifford was 4-for-5 on those plays, with the only incompletion winding up as a tip-drill interception by Zach Harrison in the first quarter.
Three of the four completions resulted in first downs, while the fourth led to a fourth-and-1 conversion by the blue and white.
After playing together for three campaigns, Clifford and Washington have built a great connection, and it's becoming more apparent as each contest passes.
Besides his elusiveness, Washington has a knack for making the big play, including a diving snag on third-and-nine in the second quarter and his high-pointed touchdown against Minnesota a week ago.
“I told him at the beginning of the game that I'm gonna definitely give him his shots. Put it up there,” Clifford said. “They like to play, man. I knew that we were gonna have our chances. So I told Park, I just said, 'Hey man, big players make big plays in the big game. That's you.'”
Having someone like Washington who can stretch the field opens up the passing game in a huge way.
His 58-yard score was the Nittany Lions' second-longest passing play this season, with the longest being Brenton Strange’s 67-yard score against Purdue.
Washington also returns punts for Penn State, and while he didn’t have any long returns on Saturday, he’s a flashy player that is good with the ball in his hands and has a knack for the big play.
However, the flashy style that’s seen every Saturday isn’t how Washington carries himself away from the gridiron.
He’s extremely soft-spoken, and while 249 of 567 yards have come in the past two weeks, his style isn’t changing despite the newfound success.
Washington mentioned he might talk a little bit more on the field, but it ultimately comes down to consistency, which he’s displayed the past two weeks.
“It starts with leadership and the examples you set every day. If I want to be a No. 1 receiver — if any guy wants to be a No. 1 receiver — you gotta be consistent as much as you can,” Washington said. “I feel like I've done that over these last couple of years. I'm just always looking to build on that and be the best teammate I can for the guys.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.