COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Joseph Randle took a handoff from Brandon Weeden on Oklahoma State's first drive against Arizona, cut to the outside and sprinted up the sideline for 41 yards.
Later in the game, Randle slipped behind the Wildcat linebacker, caught a short pass from Weeden in the middle of the field and turned it into a 63-yard gain.
Randle was responsible for the Cowboys' longest running and receiving play that night. He also scored twice on a pair of short runs — one where he flipped over the linemen and into the end zone from a yard out.
That's just what Joe Randle can do.
“He's a talented dude,” Weeden said.
The running game will be a large focal point of Saturday afternoon's top-10 showdown between OSU and Texas A&M at Kyle Field. Much of the attention will surround the Aggies' stout backfield combination of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and whether the Cowboys' front seven can stop them.
But Randle may be the most dangerous all-around weapon on the field Saturday.
“I'm not really trying to judge myself like that,” Randle said. “I just try to use my abilities within the offense.”
Those abilities are plentiful.
Through three weeks, Randle, a sophomore, is one of three running backs in the nation with at least 300 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving, joining Oregon's LaMichael James, a 2010 Heisman finalist, and Florida's Chris Rainey.
Randle has shown this season that he can run between the tackles as the Cowboys' featured back. He can catch the ball out of the backfield with ease. Or, he can split to the outside and run routes alongside OSU's elite group of receivers.
No matter the down or situation, Randle is always a threat to get the ball.
“If you get the ball in his hands, he's going to make good decisions,” OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “He's going to make plays.”
Weeden sees a little bit of LaDainian Tomlinson and Reggie Bush in his backfield-mate. And OSU coach Mike Gundy and has loosely compared Randle to Thurman Thomas and Marshall Faulk.
“I'm not saying he's Marshall Faulk, but he does some of the same things that he did,” Gundy said. “We can move him around and he has good hands and he's smart and he understands protections.”
He's that hybrid back that is almost equally effective in both the running game and passing game. That's an ideal fit for the Cowboys' spread offense, but Randle is a player that could flourish in any system.
But very few teams have a player like Randle. Very few backs are as versatile as Randle, and coaches cannot just create that versatility.
Monken noted that most running backs do not have the natural ball skills that Randle possesses to make a serious impact as a receiver. Not even two-time All-American Kendall Hunter, who was often taken out of the game on third down last season because of that.
Who often replaced Hunter on the field? Randle, who as a freshmen rushed for 452 yards and caught passes for 427 yards.
That's when Weeden realized Randle could be a special player.
“When he did play, he was electric,” Weeden said. “He caught a lot of screens, he caught passes out of the backfield and he ran the ball well. He did everything as a true freshman that made you think, ‘This guy's going to be really good.'”
On a national scale, Randle has not received a huge amount of buzz.
Saturday provides the perfect chance to change all that. The No. 7 Cowboys will be showcased on the afternoon's prime television slot in a game that will likely determine whether OSU or A&M will become Oklahoma's biggest challenger for the Big 12 title.
Randle has the opportunity to show that he's not only a versatile playmaker, but an elite back that is capable of helping OSU become championship contenders.
“This is why I came here — because I knew this time would come in my career,” Randle said. “I've kind of prepared myself for my whole life to be in this kind of situation, so it's no surprise when it comes.
“I just got to grasp the moment and do what I'm supposed to do.”
When it comes to carrying and catching the football, OSU's Joseph Randle ranks among the nation's most versatile backs. A look at how he compares:
Player, school; Rushing; Receiving; Total; TDs
Chris Rainey, Florida; 306; 214; 520; 4
Joseph Randle, OSU; 378; 117; 495; 7
LaMichael James, Oregon; 325; 144; 469; 6
RANDLE VS. THURMAN
Joseph Randle's versatility is drawing comparisons to former OSU star Thurman Thomas, who starred for four seasons with the Cowboys. Randle, a sophomore, is in his first season as a starter. A look at how they compare:
Category; Randle; Thomas
Avg. yards from scrimmage; 7.1; 4.2
Yards per rush; 5.8; 5.1
Yards per catch; 11.1; 7.3
Career receptions; 49; 75