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December 24, 2011
James Washington doesn't have to think very long to say the number 148.
NC State's junior running back is 148 yards away from reaching 1,000 on the season, but will have to go against a stingy Louisville run defense Dec. 27 in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
"I think about it every day, with 148 is the number," Washington said. "You still have to win and that is what I'm striving for."
The Cardinals have allowed 103.5 rushing yards per game this season, but have had three different running backs reach the century mark. Cincinnati star Isaiah Pead set the standard with 151 yards on 20 carries and a 50-yard touchdown run during the Bearcats 25-16 victory Oct. 15.
Washington enters the game with 852 yards and seven touchdowns on 212 carries, and has rushed for over 100 yards in three different games, paced by his 131-yard effort against Georgia Tech Oct. 1. He ranks 14th in school history going into the bowl game for rushing yards in a season.
Washington is already well over 1,000 yards of total offense with 1,152. He has caught a career-high 39 receptions for 300 yards. The one-two punch of Washington and redshirt freshman running back Tony Creecy has provided a nice lift to the Wolfpack passing game. Creecy has rushed for 366 yards and a score, and has added 157 and three touchdowns in the passing game.
The screen pass to Washington or Creecy has become one of the Wolfpack's big weapons this season.
"You just have to be patient and be in the right spot at the right time," Washington said. "The defense is going to try and come through and sack the quarterback. As long as you can get out and not run into any defenders, you'll be able to get open."
Washington and Creecy have helped fill the void of losing returning leading rusher Mustafa Greene. The sophomore running back injured his foot last spring and missed the season, but coach Tom O'Brien is hopeful Greene will be back this spring. Greene rushed for 597 yards on 134 carries and four touchdowns, and caught 30 passes for 272 and two scores in 2010.
NC State will be deep at the position next year with Washington, Creecy and Greene, all back.
"I think it will be the same as this year with a one and a two," Washington said. "Next year will be my senior year and I don't plan on anybody taking this top spot. He's been doing treatment for his foot, so we'll just have to wait until the spring to see how he is."
Washington, who is from Orlando, Fla., is well aware of Louisville's roster being littered with players from the Sunshine state. He is good friends with third-string sophomore running back Jeremy Wright, who is from Clermont, Fla.
"Wright is from my area and we used to work out together back in high school," Washington said. "[Louisville] Coach Charlie Strong used to coach at Florida [as defensive coordinator], so I'm pretty familiar with him. He loves to recruit out of Florida."
Washington's blitz pickup skills will also be featured against the Cardinals. Washington started four games in 2010 in part because of his abilities to pick up blitzers.
"We play against big teams every week, so it's nothing out of the ordinary," Washington said. "They blitz a lot, so we have to know what they do up front, and have to pick up guys on the run or in pass protection."
Washington has battled injuries in the past, but was able to remain healthy for all 12 games. The 6-0, 180-pounder hopes to gain weight and get stronger this offseason in preparation for his last season.
"I want to get stronger in the lower body and be able to drag defenders," Washington said. "I want to pick up extra yards after contact. I'm going to try and add another 10 pounds to get to 195. I'm a solid 185 right now."