But as Washington made his cut to try to slip through, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes flashed in front of him and laid Gaines out. Two plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone for their first touchdown, setting the tone for their stunning 35-24 victory in Fayetteville on Saturday.
“That (play) was huge,” Washington said. “When your quarterback, your leader, sacrifices his body like that and comes up with a big hit -- it really got us going.”
The clear-out block underscored the attitude Mahomes has brought to the Red Raiders, who are rolling again at 3-0 after a disappointing 4-8 record last season.
The sophomore from Whitehouse, Texas, who also plays baseball for Tech, ranks third in the country in total offense (1,029 passing yards, 129 rushing yards). He’s already been named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice. And dating back to his second career start last season, Mahomes has thrown 23 touchdowns to just five picks over six games.
“He plays with a certain spirit, where (the players) never know what’s going to happen, where they think everything is possible, and we’ve got a chance in every game,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You can see they’re inspired by some of the plays he makes. ... He’s unflappable.
“That has helped build confidence.”
This Saturday in Lubbock, Tech will attempt to keep surging against third-ranked TCU. A win over the Horned Frogs could elevate the upstart Red Raiders into the Big 12 title conversation.
TCU features one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Trevone Boykin, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2014. The Red Raiders, however, counter with a quarterback playing as well as any in the country, which in turn has elevated the play of the entire team.
“We definitely feel confident with No. 5 as our QB,” Washington said of Mahomes, who was not available for interviews this week. “The way he’s played, it’s trickled down, not only to the offense but the whole team. Seeing him making special plays, the team feeds off his energy. That has carried us these first (three) games.”
Mahomes completed 26 of 30 passes for 243 yards in the win over Arkansas. He also threw a touchdown and ran for two more scores. But no play meant more to his teammates than the block.
“It gets you excited to see that’s the kind of quarterback you’re blocking for,” Tech center Jared Kaster said. “That’s what gets you up in the morning, to play with guys like that. The way he sacrifices his body, he’s really shown a determination, an eagerness to win. He’s becoming that leader and quarterback you want and need.”
The Red Raiders had fun with the block during their film sessions, though afterward Kingsbury ordered Mahomes to abstain from ever doing it again.
“He feels like he's a big man,” Washington said, “now that he got himself a pancake.”
As well as he's played, Mahomes isn’t the sole reason for Tech’s resurgence.
Fellow sophomore Justin Stockton has emerged alongside Washington at running back, scoring the game-clinching touchdown at Arkansas by slicing 22 yards through the Razorbacks' defense. Reginald Davis has finally begun to realize his potential at wideout, leading Tech with 115 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown grabs last weekend, including one from Jakeem Grant on a trick play.
Under first-year coordinator David Gibbs, the defense has shown dramatic improvement, too, holding Arkansas to nothing more than a field goal after halftime.
“We’re not there yet,” Grant said. “But I feel like we’re beginning to hit our stride.”
Grant, though, noted Mahomes is the biggest reason why, as TCU coach Gary Patterson puts it, Tech is a “completely different” team from the one the Horned Frogs buried 82-27 last season.
“Pat has been tremendous,” Grant said. “He’s brought so much to this team."
Including touchdown tosses. And the taking out of would-be tacklers.
“He’s given us a spark,” Washington said. “And we’ve rallied around him.”