Ohio State football: Marvin Harrison, Emeka Egbuka looking like the new duo to watch for Buckeyes
Ohio State fans might have a feeling of deja vu. After enjoying big seasons from a wide receiver tandem of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the Buckeyes are producing another pair of standout receivers who could well be All-Big Ten (if not All-America) performers.
While Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the anticipated leader of a deep (but fairly inexperienced) OSU receiver room, he’s been out since the second quarter of the opener, and his season totals of 2 catches for 3 yards are far below expectations. But the next men up have been far from disappointing.
Marvin Harrison Jr. made a public statement of intention in the Rose Bowl last year. With Olave and Wilson opting out of the game, Harrison made his first career start for the Buckeyes. His season totals heading into the game? Five receptions, 68 yards, 0 touchdowns. But in the Rose Bowl, opposite Smith-Njigba, Harrison demonstrated the combination of skills and bloodlines that made him a highly-anticipated recruit. He finished with 6 catches, 71 yards and 3 touchdowns. Considering that the veteran due of Olave and Wilson had combined for a total of 1 3-score game (Wilson against Purdue), the idea that Harrison was a guy capable of filling shoes was pretty apparent.
At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Harrison is more of a physical specimen than his father, the Pro Football Hall of Famer from the Indianapolis Colts. Using his size and big-play skills, Harrison helped St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia to a state title, with an assist from QB Kyle McCord, now OSU’s backup QB. He used his time on the bench in Columbus to add strength, and now 2 games into OSU’s season, Harrison’s 12 catches for 240 yards and 3 scores testify to the fact that despite having just 3 college starts under his belt, Harrison plays older than his years.
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“He’s very mature for his age,” said head coach Ryan Day after Harrison’s 184 yards and 3 scores against Arkansas State. “To see somebody that’s played as much as he has with just the high level of route-running is pretty remarkable.” Harrison sparked the Buckeyes on Saturday by turning a variety of passes into big plays, picking up a pair of 42-yard touchdowns, one on a slant and another on a deep ball. His third score, a 30-yarder fit in between a pair of defenders in the corner of the end zone, was a thing of beauty.
But Harrison doesn’t have to do all the work.
Fellow sophomore Emeka Egbuka is proving to be the yin to Harrison’s yang. Egbuka showed flashes of big-game speed a year ago, averaging 29 yards per kickoff return while also hauling in 9 passes for 191 yards. In 2022, Egbuka is keeping the big-play wiggle but adding increased production. Two games in, Egbuka has 13 receptions for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It’s been an odd road to Columbus for Egbuka, a 5-star recruit who missed his senior season of high school football due to the state of Washington not offering the sport in 2020 due to COVID. An early enrollee at OSU, Egbuka also blew up in the Rose Bowl, albeit mostly as a kick returner, with 163 return yards in the game.
At 6-foot-1, Egbuka might not be the deep-ball threat that Harrison is. But his ability to get free from anywhere, anytime is another interesting part of the Buckeyes’ attack. A 77-yard punt return score that came back due to penalty was a not-so-subtle reminder of what Egbuka brings to the field every day.
“His work ethic’s off the charts,” Day said of Egbuka during fall practice. “His toughness is off the charts. His ball skills are really good. If he keeps stacking days, I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
After a 2-0 start, the Buckeyes figure to take things cautiously for a few weeks. Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming will likely be ready to go by Big Ten play. But in the meanwhile, the No. 3 and No. 5 receiving yardage targets in the Big Ten are doing just fine picking up the slack. They’re a few games shy of being Olave and Wilson, but Harrison and Egbuka may well be on their way. And that’s deja vu that Buckeyes fans can enjoy.