Nakia Watson’s two touchdowns and 64 yards from scrimmage didn’t just prove to be the difference in Washington State’s epic 17-14 upset of No. 19 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium, it also signaled that the highly touted transfer is ready to be what we thought he could be.
When WSU announced that the program had signed a transfer running back from Wisconsin, a bunch of us were excited based on merely on the fact that the running back was coming from Wisconsin. It didn’t much matter to us what Watson had actually done in Madison; if a running back was good enough for Wisconsin to recruit, that was a good enough endorsement of his ability, considering the Badgers’ track record at that particular position. That he actually was reasonably productive in his limited opportunities as a Badger was even better.
So, despite the presence of Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh already on the roster, we thought Watson might wedge his way into some playing time. He did not. It took all the way until the Cougars’ bowl game — after Max Borghi opted out and Deon McIntosh didn’t travel for unspecified reasons — to get his first real run-out at WSU.
It was less than impressive: 17 carries for 62 yards (propped up by one 40-yard outburst) and zero touchdowns.
Sure, Watson was running behind a makeshift line that struggled mightily in all phases, and it certainly didn’t help that the Cougars were playing their backup QB in the second half. But there was something about the way he was running that just didn’t feel great — Watson looked tentative and a little reluctant to initiate contact, despite his 6-foot/220-pound frame.
Maybe it was rust, maybe Watson underwent an attitude adjustment, but whatever it was, he is a different runner this season.
After rushing for a pretty easy 117 yards on 18 carries against Idaho — to be honest, it probably could have been 200 if the Cougs had kept handing him the ball — Watson was again excellent against Wisconsin.
No, his 33 yards on 10 carries against his former team won’t make pundits around the country sit up and take notice. But for those of us who have been waiting for him to shine, they were incredibly impressive — none more so than the 15 yards he picked up on consecutive carries on the final drive that officially moved the game into clock stopping mode for the Badgers.
Of course, it wasn’t a running play that will be the thing everyone remembers about Watson from this game:
The agility, the speed to pull away from the pursuing defenders ... it’s all so tantalizing. It’s what we thought we were getting way back when. And it seems to be the result of a guy working real hard to be the kind of running back WSU needs him to be.
“There was definitely a chip on my shoulder, just playing against my old boys,” Watson said after the game. “Normally I’m not a person that cries, but I cried a little bit.”
He deserved it.