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Football: Ohio State wide receivers providing Dwayne Haskins with variety of targets

Ohio State senior wide receiver Johnnie Dixon (1) catches a pass during the second half of the game against Rutgers on Sept. 8. Ohio State won 52-3. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Ohio State redshirt senior wide receiver Johnnie Dixon lined up close to the left sideline two minutes into the second half of his team’s game against Rutgers.

The ball was snapped and Dixon took off down the sideline. The corner kept up with him nearly every step of the way. Then, Dixon cut in, giving him an extra step on his defender.

Before he even made that cut, redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins anticipated the post route and began the throw. Just moments after Dixon gained that separation, the ball was in his hands and he was in the end zone for his second long touchdown reception of the game.

“I know we have a pretty good connection, so I know most of the time he’s going to see it before I see it,” Dixon said after the game. “I mean, he’s seen [the post route] enough to know where we’re going to be and at what time.”

Saturday, it was Dixon’s time to have a big game. He finished Ohio State’s 52-3 blowout of Rutgers with 89 receiving yards on four catches, including two touchdowns.

That was a drastic change from his first game of the season, when he had just one catch for 10 yards as Ohio State won 77-31 against Oregon State. That game was redshirt senior Terry McLaurin’s time to shine. McLaurin finished with four receptions — two for touchdowns — and 121 receiving yards.

“It’s really easy to not get the ball,” Dixon said. “But we do a pretty good job of keeping each other up and telling them it’s going to come. Like last week, Terry had a really big day and he told me this week was going to be my week. I mean it just keeps rotating throughout the guys.”

The one thing that has remained consistent with Ohio State’s receiving corps has been the variation of targets. No receiver has been targeted more than seven times in a single game, and only junior K.J. Hill has recorded more than five catches — he had six against Oregon State.

Ohio State players and coaches maintained last season that having six receivers listed as starters was a positive, that the variety meant everyone would have a chance to shine and would create havoc for defenders trying to decide who to cover. At least, that’s how the team viewed the situation.

The problem for the Buckeyes then wound up being that there was never a go-to option. No one then-quarterback J.T. Barrett could reliably count on to be targeted when Ohio State desperately needed a reception. And often, part of the reason the wideouts were rotating so much was because one receiver would have an off-night.

Still, Ohio State has again placed its trust in the exact same group of six wide receivers, hoping that with someone new under center, the team can find more success in the passing game.

Haskins has impressed throwing the football with a more pro-style look that has led to more success with deeper passes. Against Rutgers, he hit Dixon in stride with two touchdown passes that the veteran wide receiver described as “mom’s home cooking just falling in your lap.”

Though both games have come against porous defenses, Ohio State’s quarterbacks — Haskins and redshirt freshman Tate Martell — have been successful connecting with receivers on 82 percent of pass attempts, a number that jumps out even considering the weaker opponents.

Maybe Ohio State can survive this season without that top guy. Or maybe, Ohio State’s coaches and players are right that each one has the potential to be an explosive playmaker for the team.

“Last week Terry McLaurin has a big game. Then we turn around and now Johnnie Dixon hits two home runs,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “And so you don’t know who is going to get the action. But when you’re team players and you don’t care who gets the attention, that’s when you can be a special group.”

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