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Oklahoma State puts RB Hill in the passing lane

(TSX / STATS) -- It could be that James Washington is simply a decoy.

Nah. The Oklahoma State senior remains as dazzling as any receiver in the pass-happy Big 12 Conference.

Still, diversity is what makes the Oklahoma State dynamic, especially with veteran quarterback Mason Rudolph as its engineer. So it is always advisable to find roles various receivers can fulfill to confuse defenses.

Take Justice Hill for instance. Yes, he is a running back. During his breakthrough freshman season last year, when he gained more than 1,142 yards, Hill caught only five passes.

As a sophomore, however, the dimensions he provides have expanded and were evident in a 44-7 victory at South Alabama.

Hill caught four passes for 46 yards, all resulting in first downs. That facet may be as important as the weight Hill gained in the offseason to handle a greater workload as a rusher and also perform better as a blocker in the backfield for Rudolph.

"We use the NFL as an example," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told the Tulsa World. "They throw to the backs all the time. There's a reason they do that, because you see a lot of drop-off coverage. (Hill) did a good job."

Hill added only 27 yards on 11 carries, while the Cowboys settled for 163 on 37 carries, so questions whether Hill can provide big-time yardage as both a rusher and receiver remains a question.

The threat, however, exists, with No. 8 Oklahoma State (2-0) completing the nonconference portion of its schedule at Pittsburgh (1-1) on Saturday.

"You look across the board talent-wise, I think Justice Hill is going to be the fastest tailback we face," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Another target to watch is senior wide receiver Marcell Ateman, who scored two touchdowns against South Alabama after missing last season because of a foot injury.

Ateman leads the Cowboys with nine receptions and has been targeted a team-high 12 times.

"He's not really missed a beat," Gundy said. "We use him down there (in the red zone) a lot because he's a big body guy. He's certainly a good weapon when we get around the red zone."

In addition, Rudolph can always look to Washington, who is averaging a whopping 30.4 yards per catch on eight receptions. Rudolph, who leads FBS quarterbacks with 185 consecutive passes without an interception, averages 319 yards passing.

Pittsburgh is coming off a 33-14 loss to Penn State.

The Panthers, however, controlled the ball for 38 minutes and gained more yardage than the Nittany Lions, but committed two turnovers and were susceptible to big plays.

Quarterback Max Browne passed for only 138 yards, with two interceptions, while running back Qadree Ollison rushed for 96 yards.

The game will be the first for Oklahoma State on a Saturday after opening the season playing night games on Thursday and Friday.

Gundy said the quirky schedule fulfills a desire by the Big 12 for all teams to occasionally play on unconventional nights and keeps the Cowboys from doing so in the near future.

--QB Mason Rudolph passed for 335 yards and three touchdowns in the win at South Alabama. He passed Brandon Weeden as the all-time leading passer at Oklahoma State with 9,352 yards and stands second all-time in wins for a starting quarterback (24-6). In each of the first two games, Rudolph accounted for four touchdowns, adding a 10-yard scoring rush against South Alabama. He is capable of driving the Cowboys to quick scores, with three touchdown drives that each took less than two minutes.

--LB Justin Phillips returned an interception on a ball that was tipped twice and scored on a 25-yard runback against South Alabama. The score gave the Cowboys a 41-0 lead in the third quarter. Phillips also recorded a tackle that resulted in a four-yard loss, while boosting a linebacking unit that was hit with an ejection and also with injuries.

--RB J.D. King rushed for 64 yards on eight carries as the freshman led all Oklahoma State rushers in the South Alabama win. He had the longest rush of the night, a 31-yarder, to get the Cowboys out of a hole and help with a scoring drive. King is averaging 11.4 yards per carry and is asserting himself as someone who can provide relief to starting RB Justice Hill.

Updated September 12, 2017

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