When Ohio State signed Binjimen Victor, I thought it was a sure sign that Ohio State had seen the light, and would be updating their offense to including a freak athlete, too large and too fast to cover on the outside of their offense. I thought that he would slot perfectly into Ryan Day’s system when Day arrived for his sophomore season in 2017. I thought that he’d breakthrough in 2018, and serve as the top target for an elite passing quarterback. To this point, I’m 0/3. I still, however, have faith in the big man from Fort Lauderdale.
Believe it or not, there’s still time for Binjimen Victor to become the game-breaking receiver that Ohio State recruited him to be back in 2016. It wouldn’t be the first time that an Ohio State senior receiver turned his career around and broke through in his final year in Columbus. Hell, we just saw three receivers (Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin) jump from careers of relative disappointment to excellent senior campaigns.
It was the change from a bad receivers coach to a good one that sparked those turnarounds. Ohio State is getting no such change this offseason. Brian Hartline is here to stay, and in 2018, that didn’t seem to be enough to make Victor a consistent contributor. He saw a slight increase in explosiveness, a slight decrease in targets, and another year without the breakout Buckeye fans hoped for.
Now, with three vacancies in Ohio State’s four starting receiver spots alongside slot expert K.J. Hill, the time is right for Victor to arrive as the player that I — and many others — thought that he would be. In fact, Ohio State needs him to. With Chris Olave, Hill, Garrett Wilson, Austin Mack, and a load of other talented, but young, receivers, Ohio State has a whole lot of skill, a whole lot of speed, and a whole lot of weapons outside, but they are without a big-bodied target.
As we saw in January, in Clemson’s 44-16 whooping of Alabama in the National Championship Game, those big-bodied targets can play a pretty massive role in gashing even the best defenses in the country. That game, and Clemson’s usage of Justyn Ross (6-foot-4) and Tee Higgins (6-foot-4) all season long, should inform Ohio State’s usage of Victor in 2019. If it does, we could see an even more explosive Buckeye offense than the high-flying 2018 group, and an offense more prepared for the best defenses in the country.
So, how exactly did Clemson use Higgins and Ross? Well, we’ll start with Higgins, because he’s been at Clemson longer, so we have a larger sample size. The big receiver isn’t new to Dabo Swinney’s offense — just look at Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams — and Higgins is used in essentially the same way that big receivers have always been used in that system.
The regressive football mindset would assume that Higgins, and all large receivers, would be used as deep threats almost exclusively. That’s how Ole Miss used D.K. Metcalf, and that’s how big receivers were used for decades in football. Because they have the extra length, it makes sense to just toss up 50/50 balls four or five times per game, and let them go get it. This is not what Clemson does, and that’s why it works so well.
Clemson uses their big wideouts as, essentially, just regular receivers. They’ve thrown comeback routes, slants, quick outs, and pretty much every other route on the tree to Higgins, because he’s treated as a regular receiver. What he lacks in elite route-running ability and quickness he’s able to make up for in straight line speed and length, making him just as hard to cover on those quick-hit routes as smaller, quicker receivers.
Of course, Clemson does still throw down the field to Higgins, but again, they do it in a more creative way than telling him to run a straight line down the field. Generally, Higgins’ big gains down the field come from post routes which are, for my money, the most effective route for big receivers. He’s able to use his size to keep corners on his back hip, and his speed to prevent defenders from jumping in front of the pass. When you have a big receiver that runs a good post, and a capable quarterback with good zip, it’s almost impossible to stop, and Clemson has done it for almost a decade now.
Clemson’s usage of freshman phenom Justyn Ross is similar, although a bit more vertical. If Higgins is usually operating in the eight-20 yard range, Ross is a little closer to 15-30, because he’s a bit of a better athlete, and a bit more dangerous in open space. This is, in my opinion, the player Ohio State really needs to look at when planning for Victor, because they’re very, very similar.
Ross runs almost all of the same routes that Higgins does, catching a good chunk of passes on quick hits underneath, and rarely serving as a 50/50-ball guy. He does, however, run more posts, and serve as a bit more of a deep threat than Higgins, but Clemson’s version of “deep threat” is not the traditional 50-yard bomb down the sideline.
It usually caps out around 40 yards, and it’s usually done between the hashes, where safeties are often unable to help, leaving a corner isolated on a much larger receiver.
There’s no good solution to that sort of attack for a defense. Loading up your backfield so you can bracket the larger receivers leaves you open to being gashed on the ground, but trusting your top corner to handle it can result in, well, a 44-16 loss in the National Title Game.
There’s no good solution to a big receiver being used as a regular receiver, and not as a deep threat exclusively, because big receivers aren’t supposed to be able to run regular routes.
So, how does Ohio State need to use Victor to help him breakthrough in 2019? Exactly as they would any other receiver. Put him in the offense as you would anyone else. He doesn’t need to be a deep-ball specialist, or a red-zone threat, or whatever archaic archetype he’s been boxed into before. He’s a great athlete with a nearly unguardable frame; forcing defenses to guard him on a variety of routes is the absolute best way to use him.
Adding the threat of a 6-foot-4 target on every play, while Olave and Hill carve up defenses with their quickness, should be extremely tantalizing for Day and new co-offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. It should be extremely tantalizing for a first-time starter at quarterback like Justin Fields, who could really use a big target like Victor.
Most importantly, it should be the move that helps Victor transform from occasional big-play threat to an every-down nightmare for every defense that Ohio State plays against. He has the talent, and the athleticism to do it; the Buckeyes just need to give him the chance.