For a moment, the world stops when Devin Smith stretches his arms out to catch a football.
“Whenever I run and I look back for the ball, it seems like everything's silent,” he said.
“It's just me and the ball and I'm focused on the ball: just catching and scoring."
The senior wide receiver’s 80-yard haul helped catapult Ohio State to a scrappy 34-17 win against Navy Saturday in Baltimore. And with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett in need of as many effective supporting cast members as he can get, Smith’s strike bailed the Buckeyes’ previously anemic offense out.
“I knew we got out to a shaky start, it kind of got slow. We really couldn't get a score or get a good drive in, so I know once he called my number I was gonna make a play. "
It’s not the first time. After all, Smith’s quite literally made a career out of making big plays. It’s borderline uncanny.
“It's all about trusting in my training and believing in the coaches and believing in me,” he said.
But some of it’s just talent. Some of it’s just luck.
“I want to say one of the best deep all players we've ever had. He adjusts so well to the ball,” head coach Urban Meyer said Monday.
“He caught – someone said 18 or 19 touchdowns, average 40 yards per catch on a touchdown. That's unique. Extremely fast. Tracks the ball down very well."
There was that time when he brought down Braxton Miller’s desperate Hail Hary heave to beat Wisconsin, 33-29, in 2011. The next year, he plucked a long ball from the sky with one hand in the team’s season opener and first game with Meyer in 2012. A couple weeks later, another long play from Miller to Smith edged Michigan State in East Lansing. Last season, Smith scorched California for a 90-yard catch, the longest play from scrimmage in school history.
“You just gotta catch it and score, that's one thing that, whenever the ball's thrown to me, I just try and catch it and just run as fast as I can,” Smith said.
“Whenever the coaches need me, I'm gonna do my part to do everything I can to make that play for the football team.”
Indeed, Smith seems to always locate the deep ball when Ohio State needs it the most. Equally bizarre, however, is how a player of his caliber simply disappears sometimes.
It’s why the biggest knock on him has long been a lack of consistency, perhaps best exemplified when the Buckeyes lost back-to-back big time games against Michigan State and Clemson last year.
Smith, who caught 44 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, grabbed a combined total of three catches for 16 yards against the Spartans and Tigers.
Sure, when Ohio State wants to strike deep, Smith has this freakish way of stepping up. But when the Buckeyes needed him the most last season, he was nowhere to be found.
It’s why Smith, who finds himself staving off younger talents like Michael Thomas and Corey Smith for playing time, worked on being more consistent during the offseason. The whole unit did.
“That's one thing we did work on all summer, during practice and in the spring also. So it's just a matter of time just showing it,” he said. “I think now, from now on, each and every game is gonna be different so you get a chance to see different guys do different things.”
For Smith, it’s getting rid of a stigma.
Because, sure, he’s always been clutch. But can he be consistent?