Wide receivers are typically recognized for the plays they make when they catch the ball. At Ohio State this week, though, the talk of the town has been the plays those receivers have made as blockers.
That recognition of a usually overlooked aspect of the game has been in large part because of the performance of fifth-year senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin at Penn State – which earned him offensive player of the game honors even though he didn’t catch a single pass – and specifically his block on K.J. Hill’s game-winning touchdown, on which he simultaneously knocked down three Nittany Lions defenders like bowling pins to clear the path for Hill to turn a screen pass into a 24-yard trip to the end zone.
Asked Wednesday who the best blocker is among Ohio State’s wide receivers, fellow wide receiver K.J. Hill didn’t hesitate to name McLaurin.
“Every block he done made, he done put somebody on their butt or he done knocked somebody out,” Hill said. “So I mean, if I was young coming in and I wanted to be a great blocker, I would look after Terry.”
McLaurin made several outstanding blocks in Ohio State’s 27-26 win over Penn State, including one on the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the game, when he teamed up with Demetrius Knox to hit a key block that sprung J.K. Dobbins on a 26-yard trip to the end zone.
One week earlier, McLaurin had another spectacular display of blocking when he knocked down two Tulane defenders to clear a path on a Parris Campbell screen pass.
To be honest, doing this makes me happier than scoring pic.twitter.com/Rqpg4cFPpV— Terry McLaurin (@TheTerry_25) September 23, 2018
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly compared McLaurin to former Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who was also perhaps best known for his blocking, specifically his block to knock down two Alabama defenders that sprung Ezekiel Elliott’s legendary 85-yard touchdown run in the Buckeyes’ semifinal win over the Crimson Tide in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“What’s the culture, what’s the expectation level of play here? He’s the epitome right now,” Meyer said of McLaurin, who has been named one of Ohio State’s team champions for each of its first five games. “With great reverence, I use the word Evan Spencer around here. I’ve been told I can get carried away at times; I do get carried away with guys like Terry McLaurin.”
McLaurin said he prides himself on trying to be the same kind of player as Spencer, who was named as the team MVP of Ohio State’s 2014 national championship squad.
“I take pride in that a lot,” McLaurin said. “I vividly remember Evan. He didn’t necessarily get all the love that he necessarily deserved, but when it was time for somebody to make a play, a block or a catch or even the onside kick (recovery) against Alabama, he made it. And I pride myself on being that kind of guy.
“Whether it’s a catch, a block, special teams, I want to be that guy where Coach Meyer and my teammates trust me to make the play. So he may not have got all the recognition that he deserved, and I don’t do what I do to get the recognition either, so I feel like we’re similar in that aspect. You just want to be that guy that your teammates can trust.”
McLaurin, though, isn’t the only Ohio State receiver who takes pride in being a great blocker. Collectively as a group, they all do – in part because that’s a prerequisite to get on the field for Meyer’s Buckeyes.
“You can’t play without being able to block,” Hill said, “and it shows. If you can’t block in practice, you can’t come play in the game.”
That effort has shown on the field this season, and Meyer is thrilled about what he’s seen, describing the wide receivers’ collective performance in blocking as “elite.”
“Great’s probably not a strong enough adjective right now for what's going on out there,” Meyer said Monday. “(Wide receivers coach Brian) Hartline’s done a great job.”
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins is also appreciative of the effort his receivers put in as blockers.
“For them, it’s not about them,” Haskins said. “They’re the most unselfish receivers I’ve ever been around before. It’s all about the group more than the person.”
In addition to singling out McLaurin’s excellence as a blocker, Meyer also highlighted the improvement of fellow wide receiver Binjimen Victor, who Meyer said “darn near refused to block” earlier in his career at Ohio State.
“He had one of the biggest blocks of the game Saturday,” Meyer said. “On the left sideline, I can't remember who caught the ball; I don't care who caught the ball, I care about the blocking. It was elite. We had a little moment together with the receivers and Ben Victor; he's become, as Parris (Campbell) said, he’s become one of us. That's a pretty cool thing.”
“Great’s probably not a strong enough adjective right now for what's going on out there.” – Urban Meyer on Ohio State's wide receivers' blocking
As any group that has six experienced veteran wide receivers – also including Austin Mack, who also picked up a key block on Hill’s game-winning touchdown, and Johnnie Dixon in addition to McLaurin, Hill, Victor and Campbell – likely would, Ohio State’s wide receivers believe they are the best group of wide receivers in college football.
That said, they believe that what sets them apart from the nation’s other top wide receiver groups isn’t their ability as pass-catchers, but their effectiveness and effort as blockers.
“We got all these receiver corps around the country, but what makes you different? I feel like our blocking makes us different,” Hill said. “You can’t blend in being the best. So I feel like you got to be a different receiver corps, and that’s one thing that makes us different.”