Under Ryan Day, Ohio State has run 12-personnel more than almost everybody in the country, and this means that there is and always will be a commitment to the tight end position. That commitment of getting tight ends on the field does not always translate to receiving production. This is to the frustration of the Buckeye faithful who immediately thought about the wasted potential of Jeremy Ruckert.
The year of the tight end at Ohio State is the offseason conversation that keeps on giving. Every single year, we debate if this will be the year in which the tight end goes from a valuable asset to an absolute weapon. If not this year, the talent in the room continues to be highly touted from a recruiting standpoint. With Keenan Bailey now the tight ends coach and Brian Hartline as the offensive coordinator, there could be a shift even further in using the tight end.
Cade Stover returns after an incredibly successful year at the position. There is no question there should be an expected slight jump in performance numbers. He would have even shattered the record last year had he remained healthy in the Georgia playoff matchup, but we’ll get to his season stats later. Year-in and year out, tight ends are often overlooked due to the talent around them. With all the other attention, this opens up opportunities.
For a tight end to finally shatter Rickey Dudley’s record, it is going to take a lot of fortune breaking their way in terms of play-calling and opportunity. However, this year is definitely the year it is going to happen.
Looking at the record set by Dudley in the 1995 season, I was still not alive and Dudley had just finished two years playing basketball at Ohio State under Randy Ayers and played one season under John Cooper. Like many all-time great tight ends before him, he made a choice to focus on the sport that would net him the most long-term success as an athlete.
In 1995, the athleticism returned for the all-time great Buckeye who showed that he could be a true difference maker in the passing game. In an offense that included Heisman Winner Eddie George and all-time great receiver Terry Glenn, there was still some shine that needed to go around. With the agility of a receiver, Dudley was third on the team in receptions behind two of the greatest players in Ohio State history.
The number of receptions setting the record was 37. This is not a gaudy number by any means, but it took a truly special talent to get there. Bobby Hoying was the quarterback at the time. He completed 211 passes, which was a lot for the era in which this record was set. In the more pass-oriented style of the modern game, there is no reason there are not enough completions to go around to get a new name in the record books.
Stover’s stats last season
The reason the record should fall this year is because the record should have fallen last year against Georgia. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes’ lead tight end Stover, he was upended and injured to the point of needing to go to the hospital for further evaluations with the diagnosis being a fracture in the back. His health is the most important thing, but there is no player who wanted to be on the field more for that playoff game than Stover.
Before the injury, Stover was at 36 catches on the season. Georgia had also failed to slow down Ohio State’s passing attack for much of the game. There were definitely two more catches in that game if Stover maintained his health. Joe Royer had one in the absence of Stover. The Buckeyes found ways to sneak out Stover, and they had the trust in him to go out to make plays in the passing the game in key situations.
Even without the catches, Stover would have allowed the Buckeyes to stick more closely to the original game plan. But this story is not about overall impact of the tight end position, because the importance is obvious. That is why this is the year the record will finally fall, and the reasons why are straight forward.
Why the record is done for this season
Ohio State has so many weapons on offense it might be a challenge for the Buckeyes to spread enough opportunities around for anyone to break a record. That being said, given the early season schedule – and the talent around Stover – overmatched defenses will need to choose to slow down someone, This creates opportunities for under the radar playmakers to find their stats in the flow of the game. Looking at the list of reasons, there is pretty straight forward path for Stover to get more than 37 catches.
The tight end single season catch record will fall this season because the Buckeyes will have defenses committing heavily to defending the star receivers. As the comedic character from Parks and Rec Tom Haverford once said, “I have never taken the high road. But I tell other people to ‘cause then there’s more room for me on the low road.”
This is basically the life of the tight end. They do the dirty work down low while the receivers get the glory and the shine. The receivers also garner significantly more attention over top. If they are in traffic there is plenty of room for Stover on the low road (or underneath the coverage). Stover had a handful of uncontested catches last season because he was standing alone off of a play fake or a blown coverage. That will continue to happen given the talent the Buckeyes have offensively.
The second reason: Stover is now in year two as a full-time tight end, and he has a former offensive assistant who assisted heavily in the development of the receivers as his position coach in Keenan Bailey. As a receiver at the tight end position, Stover went from providing little outside of blocking with five catches to becoming a legitimate weapon with 36 catches.
Last year had all the workings of a year of the tight end, but this year will be the year because of that progress he has made from a technical standpoint in such a short time at the position. With a coach who has a background with receivers, Stover can easily break the ceiling he set for himself last season.
On to the third reason, Ohio State’s success this year will have a major impact. The Buckeyes in the 1995 season played 13 games. That was the total Stover played last year in a season, and I know we already talked about what would have happen if he got to play the entirety of his 13 games. If Ohio State gets back to where they belong winning Big Ten Titles, playing in the CFP, and getting to a championship, there will be absolutely no doubt that Stover breaks this record. With a 14th or 15th game, Stover would have smashed the record and started the next Tight End University.
To close out this (future) broken record
Stover is incredibly talented at what he does as both an in-line blocker and as a reliable pass catcher in what the offense asks from him. He will never be the No. 1 option, but he will also always be a reliable option for a first year quarterback who will likely be targeting him to find some easy completions. A tight end is the best friend of inexperience, and Stover has the talent to be the safety valve when all else fails which is why this record will be broken this year.
Now, some of you may be tired of the year of the tight end talk, but it is my civic duty to continue this movement every offseason until that record falls. The Buckeyes have had their share of talented tight ends, but now they have that with a coach who commits to getting the tight end involved. Stover may not be the most dynamic weapon at Ohio State, but that gives him the rare advantage being a talented option that defenses can’t really plan for give the rest of the arsenal.
For those who remember Rickey Dudley, and to Rickey Dudley himself, this is not personal. This is personal to the passage of time, and the amount of times I have gone on record saying that this year will be the year the record falls. This time I am going to be right, and the year of the tight end will put an end to this existential battle of me versus predicting this record will fall.
This year Cade Stover will be the single-season record holder for receptions at Ohio State, and if not, the battle will continue.