Ohio State freshman Emeka Egbuka has big day as kick returner; RB Williams out again

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Freshman wide receiver Emeka Egbuka fielded a kickoff inside the 5-yard line and sprang across the Ohio Stadium turf.

It was midway through the second quarter of Ohio State’s 66-17 rout of Maryland on Saturday afternoon when he burst to the other side of the field.

Aided by a block, he outran several Terrapins players before reaching the sideline and continuing to glide.

At one point, it looked as if Egbuka might become the first Buckeye since Jordan Hall in 2010 to return a kickoff for a touchdown. But he was ultimately knocked out of bounds at Maryland’s 29-yard line.

Emeka Egbuka (12) returned four kickoffs for 166 yards on Saturday.

The return gave Ohio State’s offense favorable field position, and it put up a touchdown two plays later when quarterback C.J. Stroud found TreVeyon Henderson on a backside swing pass to continue a scoring onslaught, but it was also a part of Egbuka’s prolific performance.

In returning four kickoffs for 166 yards, he finished with the second-most kickoff return yardage ever by an Ohio State player, trailing only running back Carlos Snow, who had 213 total kickoff return yards in a loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.

"That really flips the field for us," Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. "To get the ball at midfield, it's huge."

Along with his 67-yard return in the second quarter, he brought one back for 46 yards in the third quarter.

"I’m gonna have to find a way to finish one of those," Egbuka said.

During the Buckeyes’ previous five games, Egbuka had returned four kickoffs for a total of 109 yards, but he showed flashes of explosiveness that gave coach Ryan Day a belief that Egbuka could bring out some of his returns a long way. He mentioned to reporters in the days before the game that Egbuka had been close. 

Looking back on Egbuka's returns against Maryland, Day also credited the rest of the kickoff return team for opening up some green space.

“It's everybody,” Day said. “You can't just return on your own. You need a really good unit in front of you. And I think that those guys put a lot of work in, and we've seen where it's one or two guys that maybe didn't finish their block and we got there today."

Egbuka noted that they have been eying some big plays, as well.

"Our mindset is to return every kick if we can and if we have the opportunity," Egbuka said. "We’re always looking to break one open. We have the best kickoff return unit in the nation, and we're here to prove that."

Continued absence for Miyan Williams

Running back Miyan Williams missed his second straight game for undisclosed reasons and was not seen on the sideline during the afternoon.

During the second quarter, he tweeted, “I’m good I’ll be back soon.”

Williams began the season as the Buckeyes’ starter and combined for 202 rushing yards and one touchdown during the first two games against Minnesota and Oregon before seeing his workload drop off in the following weeks.

He didn’t carry the ball in a win over Tulsa on Sept. 18 and rushed for 47 yards on nine attempts against Akron on Sept. 25 in his last appearance.

Tyreke Smith still sidelined

Starting defensive end Tyreke Smith appeared close to making his return against Maryland.

After being held out of the last two games, Smith was listed as a game-time decision on the Buckeyes’ pregame availability report, emerged from the locker room in uniform and warmed up before kickoff.   

But he remained unavailable and did not see the field.

Javontae Jean-Baptise started at his defensive spot opposite Zach Harrison after freshman J.T. Tuimoloau had gotten the start in place of Smith in previous weeks.

Homecoming crowd

Ohio Stadium’s announced crowd of 99,277 marked the smallest for a homecoming game at Ohio State in two decades.

Ohio Stadium:Ohio State football draws crowd of only 76,540 in win over Tulsa, smallest since 1971

Hosting Minnesota in 2000, the Buckeyes saw 98,120 squeeze into the stands, but had drawn at least 100,000 for homecoming games in all of the following years amid the stadium’s expansion.

Through four games this season, Ohio State is averaging 92,869 fans per contest.

Early exit for Haskell Garrett

Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett was sidelined with an apparent leg injury during the third quarter.

He limped off the field with assistance from a pair of team trainers, unable to put weight on his right leg.

Day didn’t delve into specifics when asked about Garrett’s status, but mentioned that he has been dealing with the injury.

“Hopefully we can get him healed up over the bye week,” Day said.

Offensive line movement

Matt Jones rotated for Thayer Munford at left guard during the first two series for the Buckeyes.

Munford later returned, and Jones slid over to right guard in place of Paris Johnson, who has been the starter at the other interior guard spot.  

Etc.

Chris Olave moved into sole possession of third place on Ohio State's all-time touchdown receptions list after catching a pair of scores. He has 29 in his career, trailing only David Boston (34) and Devin Smith (30).  ... Cornerback Marcus Williamson started at slot cornerback for the first time this season, a role he held last fall. … As part of homecoming festivities, members of Ohio State’s 1996 and 1961 teams were recognized during separate timeouts in the first half.

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Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.