Rob Oller | Catch that? Ohio State 2020 quarterback-receivers combo among school's best
- Fields has thrown as many touchdowns (11) as incompletions.
Todd Boeckman interrupted before the last word had left my mouth. I was asking him something along the lines of “Ohio State has had plenty of outstanding quarterback-wide receiver combos through the years. If you had to rank them …”
“You might be seeing it right now,” the former OSU quarterback cut in, floating the idea that Justin Fields and favorite targets Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson could be the best pass/catch combination in school history.
To which I say, “Whoa, big fella, to some fans them’s fightin’ words.” They also may be accurate.
It’s hard telling because the passing game in college football has changed so much through the decades. But a case could be made that the current cool cat in the silver hat and his trustworthy Thing One and Thing Two are as good as anything the Buckeyes have seen.
I posed the same question to Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was part of a nice little QB-WR connection himself at OSU in 2007 when Boeckman was throwing to him and Brian Robiskie.
“Where do we compare?” Hartline said of the principles in the 2020 passing game. “Give me the win-loss column at the end and then I’ll let you know. When put in the clutch moment, do we make the play or don’t we?”
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Answer: TBD due to too small of a sample size. But Hartline is correct in that history shines on quarterbacks and receivers who come up big in the breathless moments. Troy Smith won the 2006 Heisman Trophy with help from his 3-0 record as a starter against Michigan, while teammate Anthony Gonzalez is remembered for his leaping catch against the Wolverines in 2005. Smith also had Ted Ginn in his holster, which puts the Smith-Ginn-Gonzalez trio high on the list of best ever.
Being a relative old guy — my relatives insist there is nothing relative about it — my memories dive deep into the 1980s when Cris Carter was snatching passes from Mike Tomczak and Jim Karsatos. Few would label Tomczak or Karsatos among the best QBs in school history, though Tomczak arguably put together the most successful NFL career of any OSU slinger. Carter’s talent, however, is hard to top.
That said, the idea here is not to select the best receivers but best overall passing game performers. Big difference.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Warfield ranks among the top NFL receivers of his era, but Warfield caught only 39 passes in three seasons at Ohio State (1961-63), 22 of which came his senior year. Wilson has 24 receptions already through three games.
Coach Woody Hayes’ rudimentary passing chart resembled cave drawings. Starting quarterback Cornelius Green attempted 46 passes the entire 1973 season. Fields attempted that many against Clemson in December’s College Football Playoff semifinal.
Earle Bruce’s OSU teams winged it far more than Hayes' squads, though not exactly like Purdue, despite having weapons such as Carter, tight end John Frank and wide receiver Gary Williams, who owned as good a pair of hands as anyone.
When discussing best QB-WR combos, the start line needs to be the 1990s, when under coach John Cooper quarterback Bob Hoying hooked up with receivers Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn and tight end Rickey Dudley, and Joe Germaine threw to wideouts David Boston and Dee Miller.
“Sometimes people have short memories,” Hoying said last week. “No doubt the guys they have now are special, but over the years you go back down the line and it is special guy over special guy. Fortunately, I was able to play quarterback for some of them.”
Glenn won the 1995 Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s best receiver, after a sterling season that included 64 catches for 1,411 yards (22.0 per catch) and 17 touchdowns. Galloway in 1993 caught 47 balls for a 20.1 average. But of course they needed the help of Hoying, who threw for 7,174 yards and 56 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter.
“My senior year we not only had Terry but Eddie (George) in the backfield, and Rickey Dudley was incredible, too,” Hoying said. “Up until then we had not thrown much to the halfbacks, and Eddie made some big plays in the passing game.”
Germaine saw Hoying’s success and raised it, throwing for a then-record 3,330 yards his senior season. What made the Germaine-Boston-Miller connection click was what makes all quarterback-receiver groups successful: hours spent during the summer playing pitch-and-catch.
“We spent a lot of time at the Woody Hayes facility during winter conditioning, and then summer right before came, myself, Joe and David practicing hard,” Miller said.
As good as those 1990s passing groups were, they seem almost antiquated compared to today, when Fields (52 TD passes in 17 games) follows a quarterback in Dwayne Haskins who threw 50 touchdown passes in 2018 alone, to 11 different receivers.
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Parris Campbell caught 90 passes in 2018, many on jet-sweep touch passes that amount to forward handoffs. He was joined by K.J. Hill (70 catches), Johnnie Dixon (42) and Terry McLaurin (35).
Based on raw numbers, the 2018 QB/WR group is hard to beat, but the Buckeyes came close last year with Hill, Olave, Wilson, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack.
Numbers won’t be as eye-catching in a shortened 2020 season, but I would already put Fields and Olave/Wilson near the top.