“This position battle won’t end when the spring is over. It’ll be ongoing throughout the summer and into the season as the younger players gain experience.”
- Stephen Means on Ohio State’s wide receivers, Cleveland.com
While Ohio State struggled at numerous positions last season, wide receiver was not one of them. However, with the departure of Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin to the NFL, the Buckeyes will be tasked with replacing three of their top four pass catchers from a year ago — three guys who combined for 2,433 yards and 31 touchdowns. Luckily, for now full-time receivers coach Brian Hartline, Ohio State still possesses a unit full of talent. The only issue OSU will have this season, and one that any team would love to have, is figuring out which of their tremendously skilled receivers will see the field the most.
The one guy who is guaranteed a starting spot is K.J. Hill. Hill, one of four seniors at his position, had a fantastic season in 2018, accumulating 885 yards — good for second on the team behind only Campbell — and six touchdowns. The 6-foot, 198-pound wideout from Little Rock, Ark., had more than his fair share of highlight plays last year, including a one-handed grab for a TD against Minnesota and the go-ahead TD on a screen pass against Penn State. Hill is one of the most sure-handed receivers on the team while also possessing breakaway speed and great vision, and will most likely feature as Ohio State’s No. 1 option this season.
Behind Hill, there is not a ton of separation among the rest of the unit, which is undoubtably a good thing as it will provide guys with extra motivation to step up in order to earn additional playing time. Two guys, however, that could separate themselves from the pack with a good spring are Austin Mack and Chris Olave.
Mack, a senior, played in eight games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. He has amassed 689 yards on 52 receptions with three TDs through 22 games at Ohio State, showing flashes of his exceptional hands and abilities as a possession receiver. Olave, on the other hand, is a sophomore whose breakout two-touchdown game against Michigan last season could be a sign of things to come in 2019. Theres just something about the way Olave moves and his ability to make plays that could make him a staple in this Ohio State offense that will likely be helmed by Justin Fields.
The Buckeyes still have more options outside these guys, however, and they too could find themselves earning the bulk of the playing time with great springs — most specifically Binjimen Victor and Garrett Wilson. Victor, now a senior, had over 350 yards and four TDs for OSU last season, but has seemingly just been unable to take that next step that will make him an elite wideout. Wilson was the No. 2 wide receiver in the 2019 class and has been lauded as an incredible athlete, someone who could definitely help the Buckeye offense even as a true freshman.
“[C.J. Jackson and Kyle Young], as several players did when the suspension was announced for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policy, refuted the thought that they would hold ill will toward [Kaleb Wesson].”
- Adam Jardy, the Columbus Dispatch
It is no secret that Ohio State has sorely missed Kaleb Wesson as he served a three-game suspension. The sophomore forward leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds (6.7), while his large 6-foot-9, 270-pound frame is a big presence in the paint on the defensive end as well. Without Wesson in the lineup, the Buckeyes went 0-3, losing to Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin by a combined 59 points while averaging just 56 points and shooting under 33 percent as a team.
The three-game skid has put Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament chances very much in doubt. Sitting at 18-13 overall, and just 8-12 in conference, their resume is not all that great. They had a great win to open up the season, defeating Cincinnati 64-56 on the road, and most recently they added a 20-point victory over a ranked Iowa team. However, they are just 1-7 against currently ranked Big Ten schools and also have bad losses against Rutgers and Illinois. It will likely take at least one win in the conference tournament, which they will open up against Indiana on Thursday, in order to increase their odds from being a bubble team.
Despite their current standing being partially a result of the Wesson suspension, his teammates hold no resentment toward the big man, who will reportedly return to the floor for the Big Ten Tournament game(s). On Tuesday, sophomore forward Kyle Young said that it is exciting to know that Wesson will be returning and that they are all really glad to have him back.
Senior guard C.J. Jackson echoed his sentiment, saying “You have to push forward and make adjustments with him being out and then with him being back, when things like that happen, with how fast the season goes, you can’t really consume yourself around that.” He said its always nice to have one of your teammates back.
As the eighth-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State will take on ninth-seed Indiana on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on Big Ten Network, with all the games being played at the United Center in Chicago. The Buckeyes and Hoosiers faced off once already this season, with OSU coming away with a 55-52 victory at Assembly Hall. The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to take on No. 1 seed Michigan State on Friday.
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