Is this Smith’s last year at Ohio State? In what could be the Massillon junior’s final season, Buckeye head coach pushing for consistency from big-play WR, offense.
Another lazy late summer Saturday was coming to a close in California. The sun was starting to set over the San Francisco Bay about the same time Kenny Guiton threw a pass that cut through the air and blew open Ohio State’s game against Cal.
All along, Devin Smith was thinking the ball wasn’t supposed to come his way. Guiton knew otherwise. He knew Cal’s defense would bite on a bubble screen fake because the Buckeyes ran a bubble screen on the first play of the game. This was the second play of the game, and Guiton and Smith were swinging for the fences. They connected for a 90-yard touchdown pass, the longest play from scrimmage in Ohio State history.
“I just want to make sure I catch it,” Smith said of waiting for a pass to land in his wide-open hands. “Even the second touchdown, I didn’t think Kenny was going to throw it to me. I saw (Corey Brown) had a step in front of his defender. I figured he was gonna throw it to him.”
What Smith is starting to realize is something head coach Urban Meyer has seen all along. The Washington High School graduate, who left Stark County as perhaps the most gifted and athletic player in its history, is a big-play threat and one of the stars of the Buckeye offense.
And that’s not an easy classification to crack. Not with Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton at quarterback. Not with Jordan Hall at running back. Not with true freshman Dontre Wilson looking like a silver streak with the ball in his hands.
What Meyer wants from his star receiver now is consistency, and for good reason.
“Oh, boy, pretty talented guy,” Meyer said. “Remember, he had a good game against Cal a year ago, and then disappeared for a while. With Devin, it’s consistency; certainly not talent. He’s a very talented guy, a wonderful young guy to be around. But just every week showing up with that eye of the tiger, and when he does, he’s a really good player.”
On one hand Smith is setting a pace for Meyer’s high-octane offense. His two TD catches against Cal gave him 13 in his career, with an average of 44.3 yards per touchdown reception.
Look at the numbers a little deeper and you’ll see what Meyer is talking about when he wants consistency. Nine of Smith’s 13 TD catches are against nonconference opponents. The Buckeyes need Smith to be as productive, if not more so, when conference play starts next week.
Even if Smith puts on another show Saturday against Florida A&M, Meyer will want more.
“Whenever I have a big game like this past Saturday, if I go into the next game and not play as well, they’re gonna jump on me about that,” Smith said. “I know that myself. I don’t ever want to have one good game and the next game not be as good. Coach (Tom) Herman talks about being an everyday guy. That’s what I’m trying to do. I worked my tail off all summer to be that guy.”
Page 2 of 3 - Consistency? Smith has caught 57 passes for 1,168 yards in his career, and nearly half (576 yards) were gained on touchdowns. While Smith averages 44.3 yards per TD catch, his average drops to 13.5 yards for all other receptions.
However, because of Smith’s speed — sub-4.3 40-yard time — and his reliability when the ball is thrown his way, this could be his last season as a Buckeye.
He smiled when the question was brought up after the Cal game.
“I don’t think much about it,” Smith said. “I just take it one game at a time and play my tail off.”
But Smith could have the chance to break career receiving records at Ohio State if he played a fourth year. He’s on pace to have more than 2,000 yards receiving at the end of this season, which would move him from currently 24th all-time to the top 10. Michael Jenkins’ career record 2,898 yards receiving would be a reality if Smith returned for a fourth season. He also could leave Ohio State with the highest average per catch as well.
For that to happen, though, Smith has to be a big-play receiver against better competition as well.
Smith and the entire receiving unit got off on the wrong foot with Meyer a year ago. It took the group awhile to buy in.
“It was just they came at us so fast,” Smith said. “I guess you could say no one was ready for it. After a while, we started believing in the system.”
“Oh,” Meyer said, “he’s bought in. I don’t want to say he’s young. He’s a junior now. He’s a wonderful guy to coach, great kid, great family. He just needs to be consistent.”
Actually, what Smith needs is what the entire offense needs. In Meyer’s first season, the offense was practically a dysfunctional part of the Buckeye family. Meyer grew irritated as the season wore on and his offense had one dimension — Braxton Miller.
Now that the players get the system and believe in it, Meyer is starting to drill down even more. For example, the offense has outscored opponents 103-35 in the first and third quarters. Last season, the Buckeyes couldn’t get started. This season they have scored nine touchdowns and a field goal on 13 first-quarter drives.
But the second quarter?
OSU is winning 28-19. Some of that is offensive pace. Herman and Meyer have deliberately slowed down some games in the second quarter.
Still, the dropoff in offensive productivity in the second quarter has been noticeable.
“That’s exactly it,” Meyer said of the offense’s inconsistency. “We’re 3-for-3 coming out of the gates real fast. Last year, we were not that way at all. The emphasis is there. The energy is there. That’s usually the result of a team that’s prepared and excited to play.
Page 3 of 3 - “Now the next one (second quarter), whether that’s a result of a substantial lead or the team makes adjustments on the other side and is slowing us down, or a lack of execution, that’s what we’re addressing right now as a staff.”
Reach Todd at 330-580-8340 or
On Twitter: @tporterREP