As much as Buckeye fans try to forget, the 2011 season did happen. As Ohio State stumbled to a 6-7 record and near historic level of offensive ineptitude, perhaps the most amazing stat was that OSU's leading receiver had 14 receptions all season.
When Urban Meyer took over, he was blunt that the receiving wasn't good enough and would have to get better quickly. The WR unit finally emerged in 2014 and the 2015 unit was expected to be even more overcrowded with talent. So far this year, the group -- nicknamed Zone 6 -- has shown flashes, but has displayed an inconsistency becoming painfully present with this team.
5 games, 85 rec, 1063 yards, 7 TD
The game situation
Maryland arrives in Columbus for homecoming this weekend bringing its beleaguered defensive unit currently ranked 83rd in passing defense. The Terps, who've given up 12 TD's through the air this season, might be the cure all needed to get the Buckeye offense back on track.
With Corey Smith and Noah Brown out for the year, the Buckeyes are without two of their biggest and most physical receivers. They'll be forced to rely on the leaner, quicker crew, Michael Thomas withstanding, that remains. Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson all need to step up and become more involved in the passing game. Maryland secondary is talented but undersized in its own right, and the Buckeye may have a rare bulk advantage in this matchup.
Outside of Thomas -- who Kendall Fuller is still having nightmares about -- it's Marshall that's shown the most potential to contribute regularly. But the redshirt sophomore has been plagued bad turnovers that have doomed far too many drives.
What to watch for
The group is not without confidence. If you need to find the source for this swagger look no further than the group's position coach, Zach Smith. Earle Bruce's grandson is making a name for himself in the coaching ranks with results on the field and a particular affinity for social media off the field:
Zach Smith #Zone6 (@CoachZachSmith) June 7, 2015
Urban Meyer has let it be known that to play receiver at Ohio State, you have to block, and the unit's improved perimeter blocking helped paved the way for 'Zeke Elliott's 274 yards against Indiana. Look for the Buckeyes to once again establish the run first against Maryland. From there, the play action passing game takes hold, where the Buckeyes haven't quite clicked this season.
Quite simply, the Buckeyes are missing a true deep threat. Devin Smith has moved on to the NFL taking his almost magical ability to track the ball and snag it at its highest point. This is where Miller and/or Marshall must chip in -- they've both got more than enough speed -- but they've got to show the fight and dexterity to win an individual battle with a DB.
The Buckeye offense has been infuriating at times in 2015. Questionable QB play, inconsistency on the O-line, and ill timed penalties and turnovers have all been culprits in slowing what was expected to be an explosive group.
Consistent and more efficient play from this wide receiver group can mask a lot of mistakes.
The good news is they've shown they can in spurts. And despite the injuries, the talent is still there. There's quite a few other teams that dream of having a Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Braxon Miller, Curtis Samuel, Paris Campbell, et al.
We've come a long way since 2011, but there's always room for improvement.
As Zone 6 goes, so goes the Buckeyes.