The Buckeyes will be without the services of starting wide receiver Austin Mack for the foreseeable future following foot surgery on Monday. Mack was injured Saturday night during the Purdue game.
The third-leading pass catcher on the team with 26 receptions, Mack has been Ohio State’s starting X receiver for the past two seasons. Both his experience and production will be difficult to replace.
“That’s a big loss,” Urban Meyer said on Tuesday. “We don’t know. There’s a chance he’ll be back for the bowl game.”
Because OSU has employed a rotation of six receivers for most of Meyer’s time at Ohio State, the Buckeyes aren’t left without a little bit of a cushion. Junior Binjimen Victor has split reps with Mack for the past two seasons and has plenty of experience making plays. His catch-and-run touchdown at Penn State this year changed the game for Ohio State.
Victor has caught 14 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns this season, and he has 11 touchdown catches in his career. This won’t be a new situation for him, but it will be a new role.
“Ben’s got to step up and he’s got to now mature into a role where he’s going to be the starter there,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said on Wednesday. “But we also have a lot of depth there. A lot of older guys. Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell and a lot of guys, Johnnie [Dixon], who can go over and play there as well.”
Campbell has played the X position before switching to H-back in 2017, and really all of the receivers have the ability to play multiple positions. Campbell is a fifth-year senior, just like Z receivers McLaurin and Dixon, and they have seen just about everything necessary in order to play a different position.
This could be a way to get OSU’s two most productive receivers — Campbell (52-600-7) and K.J. Hill (49-656-4) — on the field together. If somebody moves over, however, other players will have to fill the void left behind. Ohio State will still want to rotate receivers, which could mean more snaps at H for C.J. Saunders or Demario McCall. And if Dixon or McLaurin are getting time at X, that could mean more time at Z for true freshman Chris Olave.
When Mack left the Purdue game, however, the Buckeyes moved sophomore Jaylen Harris up one spot on the depth chart. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Harris has the size that coaches like at X, but the experience is lacking.
The coaches will use this bye week to get Harris up to speed, and also to get looks for the veterans as well.
“Jaylen Harris is a young guy that’s going to have to step up as well and when his number gets called, he’s got to be ready,” Day said. “The good news is, we’ve got some older guys that know the system really well, so we can move some guys around if we need to.”
Ultimately, how well the Buckeyes weather the storm without Mack will depend on how well Binjimen Victor plays. Victor has as much talent and ability as anybody on the roster, but the consistency is what Ohio State will want moving forward.
“He’s shown flashes. He has definitely shown the ability to do it,” Day said. “He’s shown flashes and this year he’s really shown in big spots. But in terms of the consistency, that’s something that he’s got to show if he wants to be a starter for the rest of the season.”