Johnnie Dixon had seen K.J. Hill make similar catches in practice. He knew what the sure-handed fourth-year Ohio State wideout was capable of.
But even still, he couldn’t resist grabbing Hill and pulling up a video of the catch on a phone at halftime of his team’s 30-14 win against Minnesota.
The two receivers watched as Hill ran a seam route and found himself wide open just a few steps down the field, catching him so off guard that it took him an extra tick to realize he needed to turn back to look for the football. They saw Hill contort his body, twisting himself around as he reached up with his right hand to softly snag Dwayne Haskins’ line-drive pass before turning back around and running 15 more yards into the end zone to compete a 36-yard touchdown.
“The way he catches the ball is different from anybody in our room,” Terry McLaurin said.
Once he reached the end zone, Hill twice shook his right hand toward the ground, as if he were trying to get rid of the ball. But the football still stuck right in his paw, the same place it stayed since the moment it touched Hill’s glove.
McLaurin raced over and grabbed Hill’s right wrist and pointed at his hand, inspecting it.
“I just remember the crowd go, 'Ooh,' and I just saw the ball in one hand. I just wanted to make sure no one touched that hand because he stuck that ball,” McLaurin said.
The one-handed snag, as has seemed to happen so often this season, came at an opportune moment for the Buckeyes.
Minnesota responded to a 41-yard Haskins-to-McLaurin touchdown with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in the Golden Gophers’ second touchdown of the game. It gave them a 14-10 lead. Ohio State turned the ball over on downs the next time it got possession.
Then, with less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Hill reeled in the pass that gave him a career best in receiving yards, even though the game hadn’t yet reached halftime.
“He's been kind of our guy,” Meyer said.
He’s the guy who Ohio State turned to when it needed to convert a 4th-and-3 in the second quarter. Hill found just enough space as he toed the sideline to catch Haskins’ six-yard pass. He’s who the Buckeyes turned to later in the game on 3rd-and-4, when he caught one of his five 20-plus-yard receptions of the game.
Hill pulled in nine catches for a career-high 187 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His second score came on a deep post that he reeled in for a 27-yard touchdown. Haskins called Hill’s performance a “career day.”
“He's so consistent,” McLaurin said. “Whether it's 3rd and short, 4th down, there's really no doubt in everybody's mind that he's going to make the play. To have a security blanket like that, I know that's big for our quarterback, that's big for our offense.”
This season, Hill has 40 catches for 551 yards (13.8 yards per reception). Both marks rank second on the team. He also has four touchdowns. Before his nine-catch outburst, Hill had between four and six catches in every single game this year.
Hill has had a knack for emerging in the most important moments. He had the game-winning 24-yard touchdown reception against Penn State just a couple weeks ago. Hill’s other touchdown came in Ohio State’s 40-28 win against TCU in Week 3.
His rise in the offense shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, even though until recently, he hadn’t been considered Ohio State’s go-to receiver.
Hill led the team with 56 catches last season, picking up 549 yards and three touchdowns. His relatively low yards-per-reception average made some people question his ability to be a game-changing wideout.
But with another year of development, Hill has become a more explosive option on the outside to go along with his consistency. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt him to have a quarterback like Haskins willing to trust him to make catches like the right-handed pick out of the air.
“We've got a great relationship,” Hill said. “We always joke around. We're cool. It's definitely somewhat trust on the field to throw to a guy like that.”