'Different animal' Wilson steps up to become go-to wide receiver
The Buckeyes were down 7-0.
On their first drive of the delayed B1G season, the underdog Nebraska Cornhuskers marched right down the field for a score, taking much of the momentum and the wind right out of the Ohio State sails. It took 4 plays, spanned 75 yards and bled just 2 minutes off the clock.
It was a daunting smack in the mouth to start the game — and the season — and it was effective. For a quarter at least, the Buckeyes were in a dogfight.
Luckily, Ohio State has its superhero, quarterback Justin Fields, and he acted the part. But every superhero needs a sidekick, and the Buckeyes held open auditions for the role on Saturday. Again and again, who stepped up? Wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
When Ohio State needed to answer the Cornhuskers first score, the Buckeyes faced a 4th-and-5 from the Nebraska 30. Coach Ryan Day wasted no time on the decision — the Buckeyes went for it. It was the first major play and decision of the season, something that could set the tone for the rest of the game.
‘That just makes him more dynamic’
Who did they go to?
It was Wilson. After lining up in the slot next to the tight end, Wilson worked free on a crossing route. Fields saw the 6-0, 195-pound sophomore running free for what could have been an easy connection. Instead, the ball was tipped at the line. But even though the timing was disrupted, Wilson adjusted and hauled in the pass on his fingertips. First down.
Four plays later, Master Teague rushed in for the game-tying score and the Buckeyes offense was off to the races. Wilson’s career-day totals looked like this: 7 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Time and again, Wilson worked from the slot and found himself open. Time and again, Fields made the connection.
“Garrett’s just a great receiver all around,” Fields said afterward. “Him being in the slot, him being able to work inside and outside, being able to go different directions, that just makes him more dynamic. Him being in that slot definitely makes our team better.”
Can he shine if Olave can’t go?
Is it possible for Ohio State’s offense to be more dynamic than last season? It will be a tall task, but having Wilson work out of the slot like this is a good start. It became especially helpful when fellow superstud receiver Chris Olave took a tough hit to the head and had to watch the remainder of the game from the sideline.
Olave’s prognosis for Saturday’s game against Penn State is unknown, but the emergence of Wilson, as well as a talented group of freshman receivers, could help overcome the loss.
Day said Saturday night that he wasn’t sure of Olave’s status.
“He seemed good, was in good spirits,” Day said. “He had a good look in his eye. That’s all I really know at this point.”
If he isn’t able to go, the spotlight will be on Wilson to produce again. It isn’t exactly new for him.
‘It’s just a different animal’
As a freshman last season, the Texas native had 30 catches for 432 yards and 5 touchdowns in the most dynamic offense Columbus has ever witnessed. And that was done as an outside threat.
Coaches predicted a move to the slot would have positive results.
“I think it’s ‘what do you wanna do there defensively? Who do you want to put on him?’ ” wide receivers coach Brian Hartline told The Lantern newspaper last month. “I think it’s just a different animal and I think it provides a gameplay advantage for us.”
Saturday made Hartline look like a prophet. Ohio State may need the same kind of production next week.
Fans should be optimistic. Wilson hasn’t let them down yet.