Chris Olave was already widely considered to be the best wide receiver in college football going into Ohio State’s first game of the season.
In the Buckeyes’ season opener at Minnesota, Olave demonstrated an enhanced skill set that could make him an even bigger weapon for Ohio State’s offense in 2021.
Since his emergence as a true freshman in 2018, Olave has been a major deep threat for the Buckeyes. Possessing a special ability to track the ball downfield as well as a knack for stepping up in clutch moments that led Ryan Day to describe him last year as the best receiver he’s coached, Olave’s ability to beat defenders with his speed and make plays on the ball in the air has been well-proven.
What Olave didn’t do a ton of in his first three years as a Buckeye is make defenders miss with the ball in his hands to extend plays. He had just 51 yards after catch in 2019, 155 yards after catch in 2020 and 172 yards after catch in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics.
In Thursday night’s game against Minnesota, Olave had a career-high 84 yards after the catch and looked more dynamic in the open field than he ever had before.
He showed that right away on his first catch of the season, on which he juked around Minnesota safety Jordan Howden to turn a 2nd-and-7 screen pass into a first down.
Olave patiently followed his blockers to turn another screen pass into a first down on his second catch of the night.
His final two catches in the season opener, in which he had 117 receiving yards on just four catches, both went for big-play touchdowns. He didn’t have to do anything spectacular after the catch on the first touchdown, which came from 38 yards out, though he deftly tight-roped the sideline on both of them to stay in bounds. On the second touchdown, which came from 61 yards out, Olave weaved his way around several defenders – with blocking help from Jeremy Ruckert and Garrett Wilson – on his way to the end zone.
Olave’s playmaking after the catch provided a big boost for C.J. Stroud in his first game as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, in which he took his share of deep shots but also leaned heavily on shorter passes outside the hashes.
CJ Stroud's pass map from Thursday night.— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 6, 2021
1. Ohio State uses the screen as an extension of the run game better than anyone on the planet and has for a while.
2. Good LORD, that's some all-or-nothing downfield passing. pic.twitter.com/MSwyWT9qh9
If Olave can regularly turn screen passes into first downs and big gains while also continuing to be an elite deep threat, he will be a huge asset for Ohio State’s offense while he also looks to establish himself as the top wide receiver prospect in the 2022 NFL draft.
Becoming more of a weapon after the catch is something Olave says he emphasized working on this offseason after opting to stay at Ohio State for his senior season instead of entering the 2021 NFL draft.
“That’s one of the big reasons why I came back, just trying to get better at yards after catch,” Olave said. “After the catch, in practice, I try to finish about 10-20 yards every play, just to be able to try to get a game-like play in, and it definitely showed up last week. So just to be able to practice my practice habits, and try to finish plays like I did on Thursday, that’s huge for me.”
With the plays he was able to make in the opener, in which he moved into a tie for fifth on Ohio State’s all-time receiving touchdown list with 24 for his career, Olave already feels like his decision to stay in Columbus for another year and continue improving as a player is paying off – though he’s far from satisfied yet.
“I just wanted to come back to be with all my brothers and try to win a national championship, but I gotta go day by day,” Olave said. “Just gotta keep building, keep getting better.”