BERKELEY, Calif. – Seven Ohio State players caught a pass in the Buckeyes’ 52-34 win at Cal Saturday night. Another four (minus the quarterback) received a carry. By the end of the night, Ohio State eclipsed the 600-yard mark for the first time in the Urban Meyer era. It was the all-around effort Meyer and Tom Herman have spent the past year anticipating.
“Today was very much how we would like to play football offensively,” said Herman, after Ohio State flexed its offensive muscle for four quarters.
Kenny Guiton and Jordan Hall’s performances stuck out for obvious reasons. But Dontre Wilson’s 153 all-purpose yards offered a glimpse of the future – and present. Wilson is a weapon the Buckeyes didn’t have last year. He’s precisely the style of game-changer Meyer has used in the past to haunt opposing defensive coordinators.
The diminutive Wilson possesses a skill set part running back and part receiver. He covers the definition of hybrid back, which helps explain the spike in touches. Already, he’s become a favorite to get the ball in his hands. Hall is the only skill player with more carries and receptions.
“I feel like they’re gaining a lot more trust in me,” Wilson said. “They have to really trust you. The things that I’m doing on the field and the things I’m showing them, I think I am doing really good and gaining their trust.”
Wilson gained 112 offensive yards on eight touches against the Bears. An additional 46 yards came via kick returns. Since a light sampling in the season opener, Wilson has been electrifying.
With veterans who have progressed, the addition of Wilson only adds to the complexity of the offensive game plan, forcing opponents to prepare for a variety of playmakers. Wilson is one breakout game away from becoming a bona fide sensation.
“I see myself as a big time playmaker, as a game changer,” he said. “Every time I get in I tell myself that.”
Braxton Miller’s absence the past two weeks has elevated Wilson’s importance and status. When healthy, Miller is the Buckeyes most dynamic offensive threat. That title belongs to Wilson with Miller on the sideline.
And it’s something Wilson doesn’t take lightly. He may be young, but smarts are part of his game. Forward thinking and a high football IQ make him a desirable target for Miller and Guiton.
“Now, there are some other guys that have some breakaway ability. No. 1 is the one guy that comes to my head.”
“I could see how mature he was when he first got here,” Miller said. “Throwing to him is a different kind of feel. He says, ‘Throw the ball anywhere and I’ll go get it.’ And I’m like, ‘What? A receiver is telling me throw it wherever I want? Alright.’ So I threw it behind him and that boy landed on his back and caught it. I’m like, ‘Wow, boy, you’ve got something special.’ It’s nice knowing I’ve got somebody special on the team that’s a playmaker. It feels good.”
But it’s world-class speed that separates Wilson. He’s run a 4.33 40 and become a Texas high school legend, a tall order in the football-mad state. But when you have more than 4,400 yards and 81 touchdowns to your name, credit is due.
“Without Braxton, we lose the threat of a running QB,” Wilson said. “They bring me in to stretch [the field] and just make a big play when the time is needed. Every time I get the ball, I’m trying to show the coaches what I can do.”
Seven months ago it was the other way around. Meyer and Herman were selling Wilson, then an Oregon commit, on coming to Ohio State and mimicking the role of Percy Harvin. The sweet-talking worked.
Now, Wilson is proving his coaches right in continuing to pursue him. If he were a car, people would talk about going from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. No player was discussed more than Wilson in the buildup to the season, not even a quarterback that finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting a year ago.
As the season advances, Wilson’s importance will only grow in stature. He’s built to give Big Ten teams fits. Space, mismatches and the edge are all points where it’s off to the races for Wilson, and back to the drawing board for defenses.
Meyer tried to temper the hype in August. Even he couldn’t deny Wilson’s potential, though, once fall camp commenced. When fans finally saw him perform in a game, the burgeoning star was shining bright.
“Last year our breakaway talent was only No. 5,” Meyer said. “Now, there are some other guys that have some breakaway ability. No. 1 is the one guy that comes to my head. To have a horizontal threat in this offense other than your quarterback, that’s a must. That’s why we’re recruiting like we’re recruiting.”
Said Wilson: “I just come here and play football and do what I love.”