If you read my last article discussing the issues the Buckeyes had against Penn State, it would be easy to agree that clearly the issues have not all been solved yet. The offensive line and special teams were much improved, so cheers to that. The Buckeyes beat Northwestern, so that’s also another positive. Still, however, the biggest issue on this Buckeye roster is the lack of separation the wide receiving core is getting. JT Barrett did a great job of avoiding pressure against Northwestern and expanding the play, but there was nobody open all game. This non-existent separation of the wide receivers is going to need to change as a top-ranked Nebraska team comes to The Shoe this weekend.
The wide receiver problem starts at the top. Zone 6 is deep with potential play makers. All of these guys are four and five star recruits coming out of high school, so it’s not like they do not have the talent to compete in the B1G. But week after week since the Oklahoma game, we are seeing the exact same issues. Outside of Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel, nobody is consistently making plays. Samuel was once again all over the field and accounted for seven catches for 68 yards. We’ve come to expect that out of him. He’s going to create huge mismatches for the defense and Barrett and the offense are going to try to exploit these mismatches. I don’t think anybody would complain if Samuel got even more touches. He’s simply dynamic.
After Samuel, the only other reliable wide receiver currently is Noah Brown. Yes, he’s been relatively quiet since his four touchdown eruption against Oklahoma, but he’s been the top pass catcher option for Barrett. Brown doesn’t possess top end speed but uses his huge frame to out-muscle defensive backs at the point of catch. We’ve seen this in the past few weeks as he’s made some big catches for the Buckeyes. He’s also by far the best blocking wide receiver on this roster, which makes him even more valuable. This past week against Northwestern, Brown eliminated two Wildcat defenders on a huge block to spring Barrett for a first down on a crucial third down play. The opening Brown created for Barrett to run for the first down won the game for the Buckeyes. They were able to kneel the ball and escape with the win.
So, we know what the Buckeyes are going to get out of Samuel and Brown, but after that, it’s a mystery. The roster features players like KJ Hill, who had a huge catch last week against Northwestern, Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, James Clark, and Dontre Wilson. None of these guys are creating much of an impact of the receiving side of the ball. The problem for the Buckeye offense is that none of these guys have become a deep threat option for JT Barrett. The lack of a deep threat is really hurting this offense. Indiana laid out a blueprint on how to stop this offense and teams are mirroring it week after week. Teams are going to continue to stack the line of scrimmage and dare the Buckeyes to beat them deep. The wide receivers are going to continue to get these one on one match ups and eventually somebody is going to need to step up. Does Devin Smith have one more year of eligibility left?
Something I think that will help Zone 6 in the future is recruiting and playing more pure wide receivers at the position. If you look at the roster, a lot of these wide receivers playing right now are converted running backs and hybrid athletes from high school. They possess freakish talent, but they are not a physically molded wide receiver product yet. That’s why I want to see freshman like Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor on the field soon. They are pure wide receivers, not converted running backs. Coach Meyer said that Victor was extremely close to getting significant playing time, so that’s something to look out for. The receivers playing on this roster just simply are not getting the job done, so why not give the young Bucks some playing time?
Looking into next year, I can’t help to not be excited for Trevon Grimes to enter the fold at wide receiver. He’s a do it all receiver. He’ll beat you deep and win jump ball after jump ball consistently. Right now, he is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered earlier in his senior season. However, when he recovers, he’s going to get significant playing time as a true freshman. He’s the best receiver in high school football, and he is going to be a much needed relief for this Buckeye offense in the future.
(Picture via media.cleveland.com)