With five minutes remaining in the second half, redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett found his tight end, redshirt senior Marcus Baugh, on a crossing route just in front of the line of scrimmage.
Baugh caught the pass and appeared to run out of room with sophomore defensive back Antoine Brooks charging toward him at the 4-yard line, but the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end hurdled the defender, landed in bounds and lumbered the rest of the four yards into the end zone to extend Ohio State’s lead to 26-7.
“I [hurdled] in high school a couple times, but yeah got to protect myself,” he said after the game Saturday. “You just waiting and looking at their body language when they try to come and make the tackle and you just react.”
Though Baugh’s impact was felt in Saturday’s game, and the athleticism he showed on his touchdown highlighted why expectations remain high on Baugh, he has fallen short of the lofty standards set by Ohio State tight ends during Urban Meyer’s tenure as head coach.
Since Meyer took the reins in 2012, tight ends have been responsible for 13 percent of receiving touchdowns. Meyer has relied heavily on tight ends like Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett during his tenure, but has not been able to count on the same level of production from Baugh. Ranked as the fourth-best tight end in the 2013 class by 247Sports’ composite rankings, Baugh began his Buckeye career with expectations that he could continue production at the position.
In Baugh’s second season as the starting tight end, he has accounted for only three touchdowns and 367 yards — 7 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns and 7.8 percent of the receiving yards in that time span.
Meyer mentioned on Sept. 28 that Baugh still has a ways to go until he is ready to be a reliable weapon in the passing game. He said he is seeing improvements in Baugh and by forcing targets to the tight end, Meyer can help him realize his potential.
Since Meyer said that, Baugh has made four catches for 29 yards and caught his lone touchdown of the season. Though the strides Baugh are making have been far from the progress the team hoped for him to make, Meyer has noticed an improvement.
“Marcus Baugh is really coming on at the right time,” Meyer said after Saturday’s game. “So I think he’s getting much better. And he’s hitting his stride a little bit.”
Injuries and personnel changes have affected the bulk of Baugh’s career to this point. He reportedly dealt with a shoulder injury for most of 2016 and had offseason surgery to correct the issue. He also dealt with a foot injury in this summer.
That combined with the coaching changes — most recently with Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day taking over as co-offensive coordinators — has made it challenging for Baugh to find consistency as a starter.
Despite the circumstances he has faced, the fifth-year tight end said he has more to give the offense and hopes he will be able to provide the team with the reliable target Meyer wants out of the position. And especially as seemingly every offensive player has improved as of late, Baugh wants to be able to do his part to contribute to the team’s success.
“I’m playing good, but I could play better,” Baugh said. “I’ll probably always feel like I could play harder and execute better. So that’ll always come week by week.”