Oklahoma defensive back Woodi Washington says after his experience in the College Football Playoff last year against LSU, the game of football slowed down for him.
Makes sense. No DBs will be under more duress than the Sooners were against Heisman winner Joe Burrow and his fleet corps of receivers. But that’s not what Washington meant.
“I would say the game got a lot easier to me after that game,” he said. “I was seeing different formations, learning formations, just the names of the formations, and just, like, my adjustments to my assignments, things like that.”
Washington had played in three previous games as a true freshman last year, but he was shoved into the Peach Bowl when Bookie Radley-Hiles got ejected. Washington acquitted himself well, and somehow — after Burrow went off for 493 passing yards and seven touchdown throws — left Atlanta with a boost of confidence.
“I just went out and executed what coach Grinch told me to do,” Washington said. “In that game, I had like 10 tackles (a career high) and my coverage wasn’t all that bad other than the touchdown (by Justin Jefferson, who scored four TDs in the first half).
“I just took from that game confidence. Just going out and executing every play, doing my job. Like I said, it put a lot of confidence in me just knowing I could guard some of the better receivers in college football, like the Justin Jeffersons and the Ja’Marr Chases.”
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch saw Washington’s confidence grow when the Sooners reconvened for winter workouts.
“There's not a lot of guys that will come out on the positive side of that in the moment,” Grinch said. “He drew from that. And there’s the responsibility on our part to have realistic expectations for what that was going to look like and feel like, and all those things. And we made it known to him, to step up the way he did, I was overall pleased. He wasn’t the issue that night, I was the issue. I take the bullet.”
A defensive back is only as good as his last time out, and Washington’s last time out was pretty good. Against Texas on Oct. 10, he had a dramatic fourth-quarter interception in the end zone, deftly broke up another deep ball and contributed five tackles in the Sooners’ four-overtime victory.
Against the Longhorns, Washington came in as a cornerback in relief of both Tre Brown and Jaden Davis. He looked powerful and explosive and, most of all, confident. He looked like cornerback who was the No. 1 overall recruit out of the state of Tennessee.
“A guy that commits to technique and plays hard,” Grinch said. “The moment doesn’t surprise him, which really, for a corner, means the ball doesn’t surprise him. You saw that the other day. I think he's one of those guys that, he’s only gonna get better. You’re still talking about a redshirt freshman with limited in-game reps.”
That Washington has played safety, nickel and now corner in his short time so far in Norman should be seen as encouraging. He not only has the skills to do all three, he has the willingness and attitude to help the team wherever.
“He’s done a great job,” said head coach Lincoln Riley. “He’s played about every position in the secondary here in a short time. So I think he’s got a really good overall understanding of what we want in the secondary. He’s played safety, he’s played nickel and now he’s making the move and playing corner. Very pleased with how he’s progressed in the corner room.
“He’s really done a good job of understanding the defense, his fundamentals have been really, really impressive for a guy that hasn’t had to play the position a long time. He’s got nice size (5-foot-11, 192 pounds), excellent ball skills — as you saw both kind of be a factor there on that play in the end zone against Texas. And he’s a really good tackler. I mean, I thought there were several times in the open field against Texas where he was extremely patient and made just really solid, good open-field tackles. Which your corners have to be able to do that for you. I think he’s got a lot of promise.
“I think he’s certainly found a home at corner.”
Last week, after Washington’s performance in Dallas, Grinch took the opportunity to reflect on how he played in the Peach Bowl.
“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” Grinch said. “Not that everything was perfect, obviously, for anybody that night. But for a guy that hadn’t played a lot of football against some elite talent, you kinda saw maybe a glimpse of it then. Just wait til he gets good.”
On Wednesday, Grinch reiterated and clarified: “I want to say it in a nicer way, but he’s only gonna get better.”
Said Washington, “It definitely makes me feel great that he has that much confidence in me. It makes me want to keep pushing to get better.”
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