Ohio State was bunched out, three receivers on the right, two offset with the third, Luke Farrell, up on the line of scrimmage. Because K.J. Hill and Chris Olave were the two offset, Michigan did the sensible thing and assumed a screen was coming. It didn’t. Ohio State was running mesh, a favorite of the Ryan Day (and air raid) offense, and Michigan was in man-coverage. You don’t want to be in man-coverage against mesh (though there’s really not a great solution for mesh), and Ohio State is going to show Michigan why in about a half a second.
Farrell and Hill get vertical, serving as decoys and screens to free up Olave for a drag route. On the other side of the field, Binjimen Victor is running a drag as well, over top of Olave’s, close enough that the two can slap hands as they pass (they actually try here, but miss by a few inches).
Chris Olave is 18 years old, and he knows as he’s running this route that he’s about to score his first touchdown in a collegiate football game on just his sixth career reception, because he’s got nothing but grass in front of him, and Dwayne Haskins is his quarterback.
Olave catches the quick pass, and, with a Michigan defender firmly behind him, shifts into glide mode, coasting effortlessly into the end zone, completing a score that Day knew was coming as soon as he saw Michigan linebacker Devin Bush take his first step — a hard first step — into a blitz between the right tackle and guard.
It’s almost funny, especially if you’re not a Michigan fan, that Don Brown called what may have been the worst imaginable defense to stop this play. He sent his middle linebacker on a blitz, and put almost everybody else in man coverage.
Because the mesh is designed to attack the middle linebacker, Michigan taking him out of the play entirely actually made life a lot easier for the Buckeyes. This play would’ve worked regardless, because Olave was going to outrun anyone wearing maize and blue in his vicinity, but taking away any interior support that may follow Olave to the edge, turned a nearly unstoppable play into a completely unstoppable touchdown.
With the safeties preoccupied by everything else happening on this play (this is how mesh gets you), nobody has any chance at Olave, and he dives into the end zone untouched.
This was Ohio State fans’ first real introduction to the next star receiver to come through Columbus.
When you actually look at the numbers, it’s been a shockingly long time since Ohio State has had a true star receiver. That’s obviously a bit hard to quantify, but in terms of targets, yardage, and touchdowns, the last truly elite number one receiver to play for the Buckeyes might have been David Boston more than 20 years ago. The argument can be made for several receivers in that stretch, but in terms of on-field dominance and production, Ohio State hasn’t replicated Boston or, to go back a few more years, Terry Glenn, in more than two decades.
Sure, there have been some awesome receivers at Ohio State between then and now. Michael Jenkins had a great three-year stretch, as did Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes. Anthony Gonzalez was, astoundingly, a first-round draft pick. The Brians, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie, were both great in 2007 and 2008. DeVier Posey could’ve been a star. Devin Smith put up big numbers, and alongside him Michael Thomas flashed the potential that he’s now living up to in the NFL, with an actual offensive coordinator instead of Tim Beck.
Hell, even this past season, Parris Campbell ran up 1,063 yards on 90 receptions, the first Buckeye receiver to hit the thousand-yard mark since Jenkins did it in 2002.
However, despite truck loads of talent, none of those guys had that indescribable “it” factor. It never felt like they were unstoppable, save for maybe Devin Smith in the 2014 playoff-run. That’s the separation between great receivers, of which Ohio State has many, and elite, of which Ohio State has had very few.
Part of that can probably be attributed to system. Jim Tressel’s grind-it-out, run-heavy offense was obviously not super conducive to elite passing, and Urban Meyer only discovered the forward pass in 2017 (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point), meaning that great receivers really never had the chance to move past the ceiling put on them by their system. On top of that, here’s a comprehensive list of every receivers coach that Ohio State has had since 2001 when Tressel was hired:
Ohio State wide receiver coaches since 2001
|Coach||None listed||Darrell Hazell||Stan Drayton||Zach Smith||Brian Hartline|
I’m not going to sugarcoat it; that’s a pretty bad list! Hazell was fine, Drayton is a running backs coach, and Zach Smith may be the worst assistant at Ohio State on this side of Nick Siciliano. However, it seems that Ohio State’s receiver coaching woes are over, because in just a year, Brian Hartline has proven himself as an excellent recruiter, a skilled coach and a capable developer of talent.
That brings us back to Olave. The former three-star receiver, a late-take for the Buckeyes in the 2018 class, flashed something late last season that Ohio State hasn’t seen from a freshman receiver in a very long time.
He looked fluid and completely natural flying in and out of each of his routes against Michigan and Northwestern. He looked like he was built in a lab to play receiver, in the same way that Glenn did so many years ago. That comparison isn’t fair for anyone to have to live up to, let alone a rising sophomore, but anyone who watched Glenn in Columbus saw the similarities as Olave carved up the Wolverines and the Wildcats in back-to-back weeks.
Ohio State is pairing that immense natural talent with a competent wide receivers coach, a head coach who loves to pass, a passing game coordinator from the conference passing better than any other right now, and a quarterback who may have been even better coming out of high school than the quarterback who just left after rewriting program and conference passing record books.
Oh, and the Buckeyes presumably have two years with all of these men in the same place, working to develop the deadliest passing game in the country.
I may have buried the lede a bit in going in depth on Olave’s first ever college touchdown to open this feature. It was significant because we assign significance to firsts, but in actuality, defining Olave’s skill, and hinting at the player that he could be, there’s a much better example.
A quarter later, Ohio State works its way to the Michigan 24 yard line, up by one, with a little over nine minutes remaining in the half. The Buckeyes are at the 24, thanks in large part to several decent runs, and a massive gain on yet another successful mesh play, this time to Hill. Now, on 2nd & 6, Day isn’t going underneath again.
Michigan counters Ohio State’s trips right look with three corners in man coverage and a safety over the top, expecting Ohio State to flood that side or to toss a screen, as they usually do out of trips.
There is a screen, to Parris Campbell, but it’s only a decoy. There’s only one target on this play, and it isn’t so much a player as it is a spot. If Dwayne Haskins sees grass on the far side of the goal line, that means that Olave has one-on-one coverage, with no safety to worry about, and it means that nobody else on the field matters.
At this point, all Ohio State needs is something most teams wish they could have. Hell, Ohio State needs something they lacked for years under Meyer. Ohio State needs a receiver to make a play, and for the first time since Terry Glenn, Ohio State has a receiver that they know, without a scintilla of doubt, is going to make the play.
Haskins throws it with one hundred percent trust, despite the fact that Olave is nowhere near where he needs to be to make the catch. He’s still by the sidelines, on the outside shoulder of Michigan cornerback Brandon Watson who was, by most accounts, a Division I football player for the entirety of the 2018 season.
It’s Olave’s job to make Watson look like a high-schooler, despite a four-year difference between the two players.
Never a doubt. Not for Olave, not for Haskins, not for Hartline, not for Day. Every single one of them already knows what the rest of the country is about to find out. Chris Olave is a star.