Comparing Top Two Wide Receiver Production During the Urban Meyer Era

By Chris Lauderback on December 16, 2016 at 10:10 am
Noah Brown and K.J. Hill are Ohio State's two most productive true wide receivers but their combined output has been weak.

It's no secret Ohio State's passing game isn't exactly the strong suit of a team set to take on Clemson two weeks from tomorrow in a College Football Playoff semifinal. 

Like most warts on a football team, the root cause isn't as simple as one specific failure point. With the passing attack, it's more like three points of concern ranging from J.T. Barrett struggling at times with accuracy and holding onto the ball too long, an offensive line that's been woefully leaky off the right edge against good teams, and a crop of true wide receivers yet to fully develop. 

Curious to the latter of those three factors, I took a look at the production realized from Ohio State's top two true wide receivers (no tight ends, running backs or predominant slot guys) year-by-year since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus. 

How does the 2016 combo of Noah Brown and K.J. Hill – Ohio State's top two true wide receivers from a receptions standpoint – stack up against Buckeye duos since 2012? The answer to that query is not great, Bob. 

For more detail, here's the year-by-year breakdown: 

DEVIN SMITH 30 (2) 618 6
TOP TWO WR TOTAL 46 887 10
TEAM TOTAL 161 2,178 17
TOP TWO WR % OF TEAM TOTAL 29% 41% 59%

It's still unbelievable the 2012 Buckeyes were able to go 12-0 with a passing offense ranked 105th nationally (182 ypg) as Braxton Miller experienced his first season with a competent quarterback coach. 

Reliant largely on short passes to augment a devastating rushing attack, the 2012 pass catchers were paced by H-back Philly Brown who went for 60 grabs and 669 yards with three touchdowns. 

Behind Philly were Ohio State's top two true wide receivers as Devin Smith flashed his big play potential hauling in 30 balls for 618 yards, good for a hefty 20.6 yards per catch with a team-leading six touchdowns while Jake Stoneburner logged a modest 16 receptions for 269 yards and four scores.

Combined, Smith and Stoneburner accounted for just 29% of the team's total receptions but a respectable 41% of the receiving and 59% of the touchdowns thanks to Smith's big play ability. 

DEVIN SMITH 44 (2) 660 8
EVAN SPENCER 22 (4) 216 3
TOP TWO WR TOTAL 66 876 11
TEAM TOTAL 238 2,846 38
TOP TWO WR % OF TEAM TOTAL 28% 31% 29%

After a year of legit tutelage, Miller added five points to his completion percentage (63%) and nine more touchdowns (24) with only one more interception (7) as Ohio State's passing offense 'improved' to 90th nationally (203 ypg) in 2013. 

Miller again leaned on his slot guy as Brown tallied team bests in receptions (63), yards (771) and touchdowns (10). 

Smith again finished 2nd on the squad in receptions with 44 and while his yards per catch decreased to 15.0, he still put up 660 receiving yards and eight scores slotting just behind Brown. 

Devin Smith hauled in eight touchdown receptions in 2013.

Fellow wideout Evan Spencer, much like Stoneburner in 2012, wasn't much of a factor through the air however as a true No. 2 struggled to emerge between Spencer and Chris Fields while names like Dontre Wilson and Jordan Hall saw time at various receiving spots. 

With Smith lacking a legit wideout sidekick, Miller would often turn to tight end Jeff Heuerman who put up the best season by an OSU tight end since Ricky Dudley back in 1995 as he posted 26 catches for 466 yards. 

On the year, Ohio State's top two true wide receivers accounted for only 28% of the team's receptions and 31% of the yards. Worse yet, the duo accounted for 29% of the squad's touchdowns which stands as the worst mark of any wideout tandem during Meyer's tenure in Columbus. 

MICHAEL THOMAS 54 (1) 799 9
DEVIN SMITH 33(3) 931 12
TOP TWO WR TOTAL 87 1,730 21
TEAM TOTAL 260 3,707 42
TOP TWO WR % OF TEAM TOTAL 33% 47% 50%

With Miller knocked out for the season during fall camp it looked like the 2014 season was doomed before it even began but J.T. Barrett and later Cardale Jones helped produce the nation's 52nd best passing offense at 247 yards per game. 

Barrett went off 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 picks in 12 games before giving way to Jones who steered Ohio State to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to capture the national title. 

The top two wideout duo of Michael Thomas (54 rec, 799 yds, 9 TD) and Smith (33 rec, 931 yds, 12 TD) ranked 1st and 3rd respectively on the team in catches, with slot guy Jalin Marshall also doing work 38 rec, 499 yds, 6 TD). 

The 2014 passing offense amassed 3,707 passing yards and 42 touchdowns which are easily the most during Meyer's five-year run. 

For their part, Thomas and Smith combined for 33% of the team's receptions, 47% of the receiving yards and 50% of the touchdowns and while the respective percentages in those categories all trail the 2015 duo of Thomas and Marshall, the raw numbers are each the best marks since Meyer's arrival. 

MICHAEL THOMAS 56 (1) 781 9
JALIN MARSHALL 36 (2) 477 5
TOP TWO WR TOTAL 92 1,258 14
TEAM TOTAL 204 2,455 19
TOP TWO WR % OF TEAM TOTAL 45% 51% 74%

Last year began the decline of the passing attack as the mixture of a two-headed quarterback monster, lofty expectations and maybe too many guys who needed the ball got the best of an offense that struggled to find its groove for large swaths of the season. 

The end result was a passing attack that finished 100th in the country averaging 189 yards per game with the true wideouts doing most of the heavy lifting. 

Michael Thomas paced the 2015 receiving corps with 56 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.

Thomas put up eerily similar numbers posting 56 grabs, 781 yards and nine touchdowns while his sidekick Marshall shifted mostly to the outside to make room for Miller in the slot and finished with 2nd on the team with 36 receptions for 477 yards and five scores. 

With the passing attack accounting for 56 less catches and 1,252 less yards than in 2014, the 2015 group was paced by Thomas and Marshall who tallied 45% of the squads's receptions, 51% of the receiving yards and 74% of the touchdowns (14 of 19), easily the best seasonal percentages of any duo under Meyer. 

NOAH BROWN 30 (2) 385 7
K.J. HILL 17 (6) 254 1
TEAM TOTAL 236 2,654 26
TOP TWO WR % OF TEAM TOTAL 20% 24% 30%

The 2016 passing attack might surprise you in that it ranks 77th in the nation averaging 221 yards per game and I'm not sure many people realize Barrett is sitting on an impressive 24/5 touchdown-to-interception mark entering the playoff. 

What likely won't surprise you is how awful the true wide receivers have been at pitching in to the overall success of the Ohio State's aerial attack. 

Noah Brown, to his credit, recovered from a nasty leg injury forcing him to miss all of 2015 but even as the team's leading true wide receiver, he tallied just 30 catches for 385 yards and seven touchdowns. 

During the Meyer era, those 385 receiving yards represent the lowest total by the team's most prolific pass catching wideout by 233 yards though he still has at least one game to increase his stats. 

As for the 2nd true wideout to consider, I went with K.J. Hill over Parris Campbell since Hill has slightly better stats posting 17 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. Those 17 receptions rank just 6th on the team which would be the worst finish in receptions by a starting wideout since Meyer took over. 

Overall, the tandem of Brown and Hill is the lowest performing combo of true wide receivers during Meyer's run when it comes to receptions (20% of team total) and receiving yards (24% of team total) while their eight touchdowns account for just 31% of the team's total which stands as the 2nd worst mark under Meyer. 

While a lot of the talk surrounding the matchup with Clemson gravitates toward how Ohio State's defensive backs will fare against the Tiger receivers, whether or not the Buckeyes can get a few plays on the outside and down the field from Brown, Hill and Campbell could be equally important. Right now, the numbers say that's not a good thing for the scarlet and gray. 

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