Most Important Buckeyes: No. 11
By Ken Pryor
Wide receiver Devin Smith may not have been tabbed with any postseason awards or honors, and he may not win the team MVP award, but you could argue he was the MVP of the first half of this undefeated season for Ohio State.
At the very least, Smith was one of the Buckeyes’ most important players. He set the offensive tone for the season and showed the world what he is capable of doing in the very first game with his high-flying, one-handed acrobatic touchdown catch against Miami (Ohio) University.
Photo by Dan Harker
It’s plays like that one which caused coach Urban Meyer tab Devin as the team’s “go-get-it-guy.” Throw the ball up and let him go get it and make a big play. While many are frustrated with Devin and the growing number of dropped passes that seem to be in conjunction with a lack of concentration, further examination shows that Smith more than carried his weight this season which, by the way, was only his sophomore campaign in Columbus.
What Made Him Important?
The answer to this question is obvious. Ohio State has no other big play receiver on their roster. If that player exists, he has yet to show himself. Not only does Smith make big plays, he makes heroic game-winning plays and they are not few in number.
Last season he scored the game winning 40-yard TD against Wisconsin. This season it was Smith on the receiving end of the 72-yard TD pass that beat California in the final four minutes of play. It was Smith again who scored what would be the game winner at Michigan State on a 63-yard TD strike in an otherwise defensive struggle.
At Indiana, Smith scored what would be the winning TD on a 46-yard catch, one where he did a lot of work making people miss and outrunning them to the end zone. In the same game, he had a 76-yard TD catch earlier in the action.
This amounts to four game-winning scores for Devin Smith. Three of them came this season when Ohio State finished undefeated. It is quite arguable that Ohio State loses every one of those games were it not for the player who dons jersey number 15.
Smith finished the season with the most receiving touchdowns on the team, second most receiving yards and second most receptions overall. All of this while essentially learning how to play wide receiver correctly on the fly considering the improper tutelage he received last season while having been severely underutilized.
What Would the Buckeyes Have Done Without Him?
Simply put…Ohio State does not go unbeaten without Devin Smith. Smith’s performance dropped off the second half of the season, but he had completed almost all of his heroics by then and the Ohio State defense had found its collective legs. The scores he made were of the long-range, big play variety and no one else on the roster had demonstrated any ability to make such plays. Quite frankly, still no one has.
Although he dropped some passes here and there, Smith’s speed and big play style made him a player opposing defensive coordinators simply had to account for. I doubt very highly that any of them ignored him when it came to game day strategizing. That had to work wonders for Ohio State’s offensive game planning… opening things up for guys like Philly Brown, Nick Vannett, Jake Stoneburner and Jeff Heuerman.
This column would be incomplete if there were no mention of Smith stepping into the special teams unit as a gunner on punt teams. Ohio State’s special teams units were anything but special this season, but Smith filled in more than admirably. In fact, he was devastating at times in his ability to get down field and make the tackle before the opposing return man could even get started. Superior coverage on teams leads directly to winning the field position battles. The Buckeyes, in many instances, have Devin Smith to thank for winning many of those battles.
How Does it Compare to Preseason Expectations?
Going back to last season, Devin was among a trio of receivers who led the Buckeyes in 2011 with 14 receptions, but he ranked first with 294 receiving yards and he was first among wide receivers with four touchdowns. Coming out of spring drills, Devin was among scant few players who began to earn any sort of praise or confidence from coach Urban Meyer. He increased his output by more than doubling his receptions (30) and yards (618) while also increasing his touchdowns total (6).
Yet it all seems so lackluster…so incomplete….even disappointing in some respects. He was rated No. 13 on our preseason countdown of the Most Important Buckeyes, but the fact is, Devin Smith is capable of so much more. What does it say about a player who finishes the season as one of the most important players on the team while not fully reaching his potential as a sophomore? The sky’s the limit for Devin Smith and next season he will be fully expected to be a top 5 player on the team. But for now, he’ll have to settle in at number 11.
Most Important Countdown:
No. 12 Corey Linsley
No. 13 Nathan Williams
No. 14 Christian Bryant
No. 15 Etienne Sabino
No. 16 Andrew Norwell
No. 17 Travis Howard
No. 18 C.J. Barnett
No. 19 Garrett Goebel
No. 20 Kenny Guiton