Chris Olave came out of nowhere.
Leading up to last year's contest against Michigan, he was a true freshman with five catches and 70 receiving yards to his name. These are small numbers in any season, but they're dwarfed when placed in line with the record-setting passing attack Ohio State put together in 2018.
Then the fourth-ranked Wolverines came to town, and Buckeye fans got a glimpse of a future star. Olave torched what had been the country's top-ranked defense with a pair of 24-yard touchdown catches. The first came on a quick crossing route as Olave ran away from the overmatched defender assigned to him. The second came on a simple go-route, when he located the ball and outmaneuvered that same poor defender.
It was a coming out party no one outside the football team expected. The Buckeyes passing attack had been so good the entire season, and it was fueled by a trio of multiyear senior starters in wideouts Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. That made the Michigan performance so unexpected.
“I think he was better than me, Parris (Campbell) and Terry (McLaurin) just coming in right away,” Dixon said of Olave last year. “I haven’t seen a guy come in like that yet. Chris was a dude that turned everybody’s heads … From day one, he jumped in, you could tell that he could play.”
That was a huge endorsement for a true freshman who had just made his first real impact on the field, but as Olave's career progresses, it holds some merit.
The following week against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, he hauled in five more passes for 79 yards and another touchdown. It was a two-game stretch the set high expectations for his sophomore season.
Ohio State needed him to meet those expectations after losing its top three receivers to graduation. There was, of course, talent returning to the Buckeyes perimeter, namely in K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack. But with Justin Fields transferring from Georgia and taking over the quarterback position in his first season, Ohio State needed the wide receiver group to be at its best.
Olave answered the bell.
Through nine games this year, the sophomore has 33 receptions for a team-high 454 yards and nine touchdowns. His touchdown-per-game ratio also leads the Big Ten. His play helped steady a passing attack that transitioned from not only its top pass-catchers, but also the most prolific quarterback in school (and conference) history.
Ohio State's new signal-caller is extremely grateful for that.
“What's there not to like about him?” Fields said of Olave earlier this season. “He's fast. He has great ball skills. He runs great routes. He's smart. Not all receivers have all that smart decision-making, so he finds his own and he plays with his brain, and he also has great athletic ability. He has all the intangibles.”
All those intangibles will be on display this Saturday when Ohio State travels to play Rutgers, as Olave continues to push these Buckeyes to their first potential playoff appearance since 2016.