By the time Ohio State’s practice ended Wednesday, three days before playing Wisconsin, Chris Olave began preparing for an expanded role.
He had seen senior receiver Austin Mack suffer an injury in a workout that afternoon.
“I watched it firsthand,” Olave said.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
The setback left a possible hole at outside receiver, and Ohio State listed Mack, who had started the first seven games this season, as a game-time decision on its status report. Soon after Olave awoke at the team hotel Saturday, he checked in on Mack.
“I asked him if he was good, then he said no,” Olave said. “I knew I had to step up.”
Olave did that as Ohio State handled Wisconsin 38-7 at Ohio Stadium. In his first career start, he caught seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, serving as the most-dependable target for quarterback Justin Fields. More than half of Fields’ 12 completions were to Olave.
“He does everything right on and off the field,” Fields said. “He's one of the hardest workers I've seen. He's always doing the right thing, never doing anything wrong. He's a great leader, and he just puts his head down and works.”
Olave's presence helped ignite a passing game that was slow to start in the rain, a first-quarter stretch that included Fields completing only one of his two pass attempts. The Buckeyes leaned on the ground game at first.
“Once we got used to it, we got the pass game going,” Olave said of the rain.
The biggest impact from Olave came on third downs, critical situations in which the Buckeyes needed to keep potential scoring drives alive.
Fields targeted Olave four times on third down, completing them all, including his first touchdown, a 27-yard pass just before halftime. It was on third-and-13, and Fields lofted one over the middle to Olave.
But Olave thought his biggest snag came early in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes’ lead had been narrowed to 10-7 when they faced a third-and-6 just past midfield.
Lined up as the outside receiver, Olave ran a slant route, curling underneath K.J. Hill, the slot receiver, and Jeremy Ruckert, the tight end, before Fields found him for a gain of 11 yards and a first down at the Badgers’ 38.
“We weren't in field goal range,” Olave said, “so I wanted to execute and make that play.”
The Buckeyes didn’t bother with a field goal. On the next play, running back J.K. Dobbins picked up 28 yards, then Fields ran 10 yards into the end zone. But it was Olave's catch that helped preserve the drive and allowed the Buckeyes to answer the Badgers.