Picking a poison proved futile for the Maryland secondary Saturday.
When all three of Ohio State’s starting wide receivers finished with 100 yards against Oregon just four weeks ago – the first such occurrence in program history – it seemed like a feat that might not be equaled for quite some time. The Buckeyes didn’t quite get there Saturday, but they flirted with the achievement once again, as the extraordinary continues to look routine for the Ohio State receiving corps.
Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson combined for 307 yards and four touchdowns against Maryland, with the first two players both hitting the century mark in terms of yardage. In a thoroughly dominant 66-17 win, the production from those three Buckeyes alone would have been enough to notch a victory.
“We had guys looking like they fell out of airplanes they were so wide open,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who was down several of his top cornerbacks, said after the game.
Locksley on Ohio State's receivers: "We had guys looking like they fell out of airplanes, they were so wide open."— Emily Giambalvo (@EmilyGiam) October 9, 2021
Ohio State’s starting wideouts were the beneficiaries of a second-straight virtuoso performance from C.J. Stroud, who finished with 406 yards and five touchdowns on the day. Or, perhaps the redshirt freshman benefitted from another electric day courtesy of a trio that has staked its claim as the best in America.
Either way, the combination has been lethal for the Buckeyes, who have now scored 177 points in the past three games, and 66 against the Terrapins in a 49-point win at home.
In the wake of his recent performances, it’s easy to forget that Olave caught just two passes for 12 yards in a two-game stretch to end September. With 120 yards against Maryland, Olave now has his fourth 100-yard game in six contests to start the season for Ohio State, and hauled in a pair of touchdowns to give him seven on the year.
“We’re connecting more on the outside, getting the pass game going early on and just having a balance in the running game and passing game,” Olave said. “Just spreading the ball around and showing everybody love.”
Olave’s first score will likely land on a short list of the easiest of his Ohio State career – or so he made it look. On a fake end-around early in the second quarter, Olave jetted past the entire Terrapin secondary on a post route, receiving a 36-yard strike from Stroud right at the goal line with no defender within five yards. That play gave the Buckeyes a 21-3 advantage in the first half.
“I’m not really surprised,” Olave said. “We got one of the best play callers in the country in coach Day, so we dial it up in practice. We run it exactly in the game how it is in practice, so we just try to connect on that and try to build on that.”
His second score had a higher degree of difficulty. On 4th-and-1 from the Maryland 30 midway through the third quarter, Olave found a way to come down with another deep ball from Stroud despite a defender draped all over him. The contact earned the Terrapin defensive back a pass interference flag, but it made no difference to Olave, who helped put Ohio State up 49-10.
Olave might have had another touchdown grab Saturday, as the senior found himself wide open once again on a second down route to the end zone on the first possession of the third quarter, but Stroud overthrew him by a hair.
In fact, Stroud referenced that missed opportunity as the one play that stood out to him most after the win.
“I really wish I got that one to Chris, that post,” Stroud said. “I kind of overthrew it just a tad bit, but we’ll get it right.”
Not to be outdone, Wilson equaled his running mate’s touchdown total on the afternoon with his fifth and sixth scores of the 2021 season.
Maryland struck first Saturday with a field goal on its opening possession, but that did not deter Ryan Day from going for it on 4th-and-goal on the ensuing Ohio State possession. On an island on the near side of the field, Wilson planted left and cut back left to blow past his defender, and Stroud found him in the corner of the end zone for the Buckeyes’ first score of the game.
Wilson scored on the first possession of the second half for the Buckeyes as well, and it came as a result of a similar inside-out hesitation step. This time, though, Wilson had more room to spare, and Stroud hit him in stride from 26 yards out.
“The personnel certainly helps. Having Chris and Garrett and Jaxon and Jeremy (Ruckert), Emeka (Egbuka) and Marvin (Harrison Jr.) – those guys are very, very talented and very gifted,” Ryan Day said after the game. “So they do a great job of getting open. The plays look a lot better when you have really good players out there.”
Smith-Njigba, often the forgotten man of the three starters through no fault of his own, outdid both Olave and Wilson in the yards per catch department on Saturday. All five of the sophomore’s five grabs went for double-digit yardage, and three went for at least 15, including a 42-yarder that helped set up another Buckeye touchdown with less than a minute to play in the first half.
Smith-Njigba finished the game with 105 yards to notch his second 100-yard game this season, ranking behind only his 145-yard, two-touchdown breakout performance against Oregon.
Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson was the de facto fourth wide receiver Saturday, hauling in four passes for 67 yards and a first-half score. Henderson was one of seven Buckeyes that caught a pass Saturday, and Stroud was pleased to see the ball spread around, even if the bulk of the work was still done by the usual suspects at the top of the depth chart.
“It’s fun giving everybody the ball. Everybody’s happy,” Stroud said. “Nobody’s looking at you trying to mean-mug you. No one does that on our team, but it wouldn’t be a good feeling. I definitely am pleased and happy that all of my receivers ate today.”