Look up “go-to” in a dictionary: denoting a person or thing that might be relied on or is regularly sought out in a particular situation.
But look up who is expected to be the “go-to receiver” for the 2018 Ohio State football team, and the answer is far from defined. Depending on the situation, seven or eight players with experience could raise their hand as the volunteer this year, and almost all have gone through the school of hard knocks to wiggle into that line.
“You have all types — we’ve got tall receivers, we’ve got fast receivers, we’ve got dynamic receivers,” said one of the returning starters, Terry McLaurin. “I feel like that’s what sets us apart. We have all that in our room.”
The 5-foot-11 Johnnie Dixon interjected, “Short receivers. You forgot that one.”
But the strength of the group “is the bond that we have with each other, to have confidence to know that any one of us at any moment can go out and make a play,” Dixon said. “The diversity is also a big part, because we can hit you with whatever (mix of routes they want to try) with all the guys at any moment in a game.”
Their point was they consider themselves all to have “go-to” capability, and they make a valid point.
K.J. Hill was the team’s most prolific pass catcher in 2017 with 56. Dixon was the most efficient in terms of scoring, with eight touchdowns among his 18 catches, followed closely by Binjimen Victor’s 7-for-23 ratio. The speedy Parris Campbell became adept at turning crossing-route short catches into big gainers.
Then think back to the seminal moment of last season, when an unproven Dwayne Haskins Jr. replaced an injured J.T. Barrett late in the third quarter headed toward a critical third-and-13 with Ohio State trailing at Michigan. Haskins took the snap, looked right and threw a pass toward Austin Mack, who leaped to make the catch in coverage and hung on after getting popped for a 27-yard gain.
That was about as “go-to” a moment as there is, a play that not only kept a lead-taking drive alive in The Game but also boosted the confidence of all concerned.
“Number one, with Dwayne coming in, he was a young quarterback at the time, hadn’t played a snap (in a critical situation) all season long,” Campbell said. “In that moment, he’s depending on the O-linemen, the running backs, the receivers to help him to shine, in a way.
>> Ohio State receivers' diversity spreads out the go-to factor
“In that moment there, Austin — we helped him (Haskins) build confidence, and you saw it for the rest of the game. Dwayne was like he’s been there before. And Austin has become a great player, and I think in that moment, that’s where it all clicked.”
The way the Buckeyes spread the ball around last season — five of the wide receivers had 23 or more catches — each had to make sure he made the most of an opportunity. It promises to be the same this year.
Of the 10 wide receivers or hybrid backs who caught a pass last year, nine are back (Trevon Grimes transferred to Florida). Hill, Campbell, McLaurin, Mack, Dixon, C.J. Saunders, Victor, Demario McCall and Jaylen Harris are an eclectic group, with McCall and Harris having made bids in the spring to become a bigger part of the rotation in the fall.
“I think it’s definitely to our advantage, just having so many weapons with guys who can do so much,” Campbell said. “I’m able to make short passes into big, explosive plays, and we have other guys who are able to take the top off the coverage and catch 80-yard bombs, touchdown passes.
“It’s to our advantage, for sure, and I think that’s kind of what we have going for us, and it is one of those things that is going to be able to put us over the top.”