Part Two: A Delay to Spring Would Cut Off Historic Buckeyes Offense

Army West Point vs. The Ohio State University at Ohio State, Sept. 16, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)

In part one, it was hypothesized that the Ohio State Buckeyes offense for 2020 could be all-time great in college football history. To support this proposition, a fine-tooth comb was run over the offensive line & running backs room. Now, to complete the appraisal of the offense, attention shifts to marquee positions of wide receiver & quarterback.

Wide Receivers

For all the potential shrinkage in rushing yards the team might see in 2020, which was covered in Part One, the passing game looks set to make up that gulf, & then some. The reason for the stratospheric level of expectation from Buckeyes fans is threefold.

  1. The Buckeye Breakout Candidates

Chris Olave & Garrett Wilson are both primed for stellar breakout campaigns in their junior & sophomore seasons, respectively. Olave has been on the ascent since his freshman year & became Fields’ go-to guy in 2019, especially as a deep threat. Wilson should step into a starting role – in the slot – now that a path has cleared for him with K.J. Hill, Binjimin Victor & Austin Mack all graduating &, deservedly, catching on with NFL franchises.

Olave finished 2019 with 849 receiving yards, 17.3YPC & twelve TDs. Included in those numbers was a season-high 139 receiving yards against Rutgers & a two-TD game against Big 10 rivals Wisconsin. Olave should continue his dominance as the team’s number one receiver & rubber-stamp his position as a first-round draft pick in the 2021 draft. Anthony Treash, of ESPN, put Olave in his list of top ten WRs for 2020, acknowledging his phenomenal ability to create separation. “Over 57% of his targets thrown 10-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage had two or more steps of separation” This tidy stat led the country & was 23% above the national average.

Wilson, a five-star prospect out of Texas & number twenty over prospect in his draft class, hauled in 30 receptions for 432 yards & five-TDs as a freshman. His talent is undeniable & he should join Olave in eclipsing one thousand receiving yards in 2020 (which would be the first time the program ever recorded the feat). With his natural abilities, & the advantage he will have with mismatches in the slot, it’s reasonable to expect Wilson to lead the team in receptions & yards. The receiver corps behind Olave & Wilson are very young, so they will both see the field the majority of the time, boosting the likelihood of both players turning in sensational performances over the course of the season.

2. The Hartline Factor

The second reason for the high expectations is Brian Hartline as a recruiter. Yes, the depth chart behind Olave & Wilson is made up of a very young bunch. But they are arguably the best group of freshman receivers the program has seen in a long time. And Hartline’s recruiting effort is central to that.

Hartline was named ‘Recruiter of the Year’ for the 2020 draft class he brought in at the receiver position.

  • Number One WR in the country, Julian Fleming
  • Number Five WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
  • Number Ten Gee Scott Jr.
  • Number Sixteen Mookie Cooper

The new blood is headlined by five-star recruit Julian Fleming: the highest rated non-QB prospect in the country for the 2020 cycle. He’s a 6’2 athletic juggernaut who clocked a 4.45 forty in high school, coupled with impeccable ball skills & ability to create separation. Alongside Fleming are Jaxon Smith-Njigba & Gee Scott Jr. Both were rated in the top ten, nationally, at the receiver position as part of the same class as Fleming (that’s 30% of the ten best wide receivers coming into the FBS this season). Although Olave & Wilson will see the lion share of targets this year, each of the young guns still has a chance to contribute in 2020. As a down-field threat, with his jet speed, Fleming is one to especially watch out for.

The third, & final, reason pertains to the man under center.

Quarterback

Buckeyes’ Best to Ever Do It?

The expectations for the wide receiver position pales in comparison to what fans, pundits & NFL scouts believe Ohio State will have at the quarterback position in 2020. Last season, Justin Fields put together one of the best seasons, for a QB, in Ohio State history. Most of Fields’ predecessors went straight to the NFL off the back of their own high-ranking performance. But the junior gets the opportunity to go back to Columbus and do even better.

In 2019 Fields threw for 3,273 yards on a 67.2% completion rate to go with 51 total touchdowns against just three picks. The 51 TD mark is second-highest in Buckeyes history for a single season, behind only Dwayne Haskins. 41 of the 51 were passing TDs. There’s a very short list of players who have thrown 40+ TDs with just three interceptions. The list has merely Justin Fields on it. In other words, he’s the only one.

With those types of numbers, it’s hard to see where there is much room for improvement. But offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson believes Fields will have more opportunities in 2020 to best his 2019 performance. During a teleconference in April for the media, coach Wilson opined: “I guess the playbook technically opens up — although it’s always been kinda open. I just think you’ll see him maybe be even more on target, more accurate.

More accurate than completing more than two-thirds of his throws? That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 10. Fields, in his first full year under center, finished ninth among P5 QBs in the stat last season. Fields also finished fifth in QB rating (181.4) behind only Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Malik Cunningham and Jalen Hurts. Two of those names were fellow Heisman finalists and Tagovailoa made his own trip to New York in 2018. All four, except Cunningham, had enjoyed significantly more playing experience going into the 2019 campaign.

The experience of a full season, while putting on a stellar showing, is an impressive foundation to start from. The perfect recipe – elite coaching staff, talent, chemistry and experience on the OLine, talent & depth at the skill positions – has come together for Fields, and the Ohio State offense, to not only eclipse individuals and team records but to go down as one of the greatest offensive units in college football history. The only thing that can sour the taste is a pandemic that can push the season to Spring – and cause the team’s best players to exit for the NFL draft – or end a 2020 season before its begun.

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