After Three Muted Seasons, Austin Mack Has One Last Shot To Play A Major Role for Ohio State

By Chris Lauderback on July 18, 2019 at 10:15 am
Austin Mack stretches out against TCU.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Arriving at Ohio State as a consensus four-star prospect from Bishop Leurs High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Austin Mack was considered a key member of Urban Meyer's top five ranked 2016 recruiting class

Sporting a 6-foot-2, 205 pound frame, Mack ran a 4.47 and 4.46 at Ohio State's camp and ultimately chose the Buckeyes over Michigan, Notre Dame and Tennessee. 

The early enrollee immediately turned heads in spring drills – becoming the first freshman to have his black stripe removed – and with Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller no longer in the receivers room many believed Mack had the potential to carve out a meaningful role in year one. 

Instead, Mack saw time only in mop up duty recording two catches for 15 yards in games Ohio State won by a combined score of 120-3 over Nebraska and Rutgers while Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson emerged as Ohio State's top three pass catchers. In fact, 11 different wide receivers or H-backs logged more receptions than Mack for the year. 

With Samuel, Brown and Wilson no longer on the roster in 2017, Mack had designs on earning a more significant role and while that indeed became the case, he posted a serviceable 24 receptions for 343 yards, good for fifth on the team in both categories. 

While his numbers were just so-so, Mack did turn in some clutch moments including a six-catch, 90-yard outburst against No. 2 Penn State in Ohio State's thrilling 39-38 comeback win over the Nittany Lions.

Even with his important outing against Penn State, Mack's biggest catch of the season came as he hauled in a 27-yard toss from Dwayne Haskins on 3rd-and-13 with Ohio State trailing 20-14 in the third quarter in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes would go on to score the go-ahead touchdown a few plays later in an eventual 31-20 win. 

Hoping to build off his 2017 campaign heading into last season, Mack caught at least three balls in each of Ohio State's first six games highlighted by 5-for-69 against Oregon State in the season opener and 4-for-84 against then-No. 15 TCU but in game eight against Purdue in West Lafayette, he broke a bone in his foot. 

Though surgery to insert a rod and screw was ultimately required, Mack hoped to return even if just for the Rose Bowl clash against Washington but it wasn't meant to be as his season ended with 26 receptions for 331 yards and one touchdown in eight games. 

Despite missing six games, his catches and yards still placed fifth on the team and as Mack heads into the 2019 slate, only Hill returns with more catches from a season ago and just Hill and Binjimen Victor return with more yards.

After returning to football activities with no restrictions in January, Mack was 100% for spring drills and spent a good bit of camp working at the Z receiver spot after spending all three of his previous seasons lining up as an X receiver. 

The idea of the experiment was to get Mack comfortable with another spot to increase his versatility since Victor has also lined up primarily as an X receiver during his time in Columbus while Ohio State's two primary Z receivers from last fall – Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon – are no longer on the roster. 

Such a move would pave the way for wide receivers coach Brian Hartline to have experienced seniors at the H, X and Z spots while he figures out exactly what he has in younger players vying for roles in the two-deep such as Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaylen Harris, among others, on the outside and Jaelen Gill in the slot. 

For some fans, it's easy to get caught up in the potential of the new kids on the block – and the hope is obviously that Wilson will explode onto the scene – but there seems to be little doubt that for Ohio State to realize its goals this season, it'll require legit production from Mack (and Hill and Victor for that matter) as first-year starting quarterback Justin Fields finds his footing. 

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