Today’s Topic: Where Will the Big Passing Plays Come From This Year?
The phrase “Next man up” applies here, but it should probably be more like “Next man out and up.”
When the Buckeyes lost receivers Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, and Parris Campbell from last season, they also lost three of the Big Ten’s top six producers of receptions of 40 yards or more.
The big-play trio accounted for 11 of Ohio State’s 14 receptions of 40 yards or more, and all seven of their 50-yard catches.
Returning receivers KJ Hill, Austin Mack, and Binjimen Victor each had one reception last season of 40 yards or more. Mack’s came early in the TCU game. Victor’s came late in the Penn State game. And Hill’s came against Minnesota and was one of his nine catches for a total of 187 yards.
Needless to say, another season with those three producing just one big play each won’t cut it.
Mack’s season was cut short last year, so he probably would have another one or two home runs, Victor, meanwhile, has one final season to turn all of those glimpses into a fully-realized representation of what he does.
If Mack stays at Z to help replace McLaurin and Dixon, he will need to pick up quite a bit of slack in the home run department.
Hill, on the other hand, is just fine doing what he does. He moves the chains over the middle of the field and catches whatever is thrown his way. His big-play numbers may or may not go up, but his value will be as high as ever.
They won’t have to do it all on their own, however.
As last year’s seniors said on more than one occasion, people haven’t even gotten to see everything that rising sophomore Chris Olave is capable of. He has more than enough deep speed and is expected to show that this coming season.
Expecting redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill to step in seamlessly for Parris Campbell is unrealistic, but he will produce some highlights, there is little doubt of that.
CJ Saunders will operate at the same middle-of-the-field frequency as Hill. Sometimes those catches will lead to some longer runs when the defense is caught in a bad way.
Running back JK Dobbins is dying for some wheel routes, which is something that Demario McCall will be involved with again as well, provided he is healthy.
Freshman Garrett Wilson is a dynamic playmaker, but relying on a freshman is dangerous. The same can be said for incoming freshman Jameson Williams, who may be the Buckeyes’ fastest receiver. With no camp yet for him, there is no telling how ready he would be for a role in 2019.
There are also holdovers like Jaylen Harris and Ellijah Gardiner, who are much closer to an opportunity this year than they were a year ago.
The Buckeyes may also have a quarterback this year in Justin Fields who is inclined to take more deep shots.
However it all shakes out, receivers coach Brian Hartline is confident that his group has enough big-play potential to get the job done.
“I think they all can. I don’t think there’s one guy who can’t make those big plays,” he said this spring.
“They’re all fast, they’re all strong, they’re all working hard. So at some point in time, it’s who’s going to make those plays when they have the opportunity and we’re going to find out. In the end, right now, it’s all about reps, how many reps, how often are we executing and can we do it day in and day out?”