In Ryan Day’s final press conference before the season opener against Florida Atlantic, he said the use of the tight end position, and the offensive scheme overall, would closely resemble that of the 2018 season.
Therefore, the Buckeye offense Saturday should have seen little to no under-center formation, and tight ends should have been prepared to keep their hands locked up blocking defenders rather than free to haul in passes.
But sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught Justin Fields’ first pass attempt as a Buckeye. On the following possession, he caught he and Fields’ first-ever touchdown pass at Ohio State.
Despite catching just one pass in his freshman season, none of Ruckert’s teammates seemed surprised that the one-time No. 2 tight end prospect in the country turned in a four-reception, two-touchdown performance in the first game of the year.
“He’s had a great preseason camp and he’s improved a lot, specifically in his blocking, and you know when you block well we’re going to throw you the ball more,” redshirt senior offensive tackle Branden Bowen said. “It was nice to see him really get after it.”
Blocking is what Ruckert, and the entire tight end group at Ohio State, are asked to do most often.
Just 30 passes were caught by the position in 2018, which made up 13.2 percent of Ohio State’s completions.
In fact, on Fields’ second pass of the game, the FAU defense appeared so certain that Ohio State would not utilize Ruckert as a pass-catching option that they left him wide open.
On second-and-nine in the Owls’ territory, Ruckert ran a post from the left side and caught a 26-yard touchdown pass. No defender stood within a 10-yard radius.
It was a play that Ruckert said was “too open to mess up.”
“It feels like you’re waiting a couple years for that ball to get there, but I was happy I was able to be in that situation and make the plays,” Ruckert said.
He may have caught just one ball this past season, but Ruckert is no stranger to making plays. A four-star recruit out of high school, Ruckert’s highly touted status was garnered mostly as a receiving threat, catching 61 passes and 13 touchdowns as a senior at Lindenhurst High School in New York.
When Ohio State embarked on a seven-drive scoreless streak that spanned the entire second and most of the third quarter Saturday, it was Ruckert once again making a play for the Buckeyes.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end made two catches on the Buckeyes’ reviving 10-play, 52-yard drive, including a three-yard touchdown with Fields lined up under center. Ruckert found himself in the end zone for the second time, and nearly as uncovered as before.
Though Day said his offense would be mostly run out of the shotgun, he said the effectiveness of Ruckert may have uncovered the ability for the Buckeyes to switch it up more often with pro-style formations. Day said the versatility Ohio State has at tight end presents an edge for the team.
“I think when you look at college football today, I think it’s important to have a balance,” Day said. “I think it’s important to be able to line up under center and run the football, play-action pass, do some things and also run spread and run with tempo.”
Redshirt senior tight end Rashod Berry missed the opener with an undisclosed injury, which may have allowed Ruckert additional time and opportunity against FAU.
However, Ruckert said his performance Saturday was less about individual glory, and more so a testament to the progress of this tight end group at Ohio State.
“I got lucky and made a couple big plays, but [redshirt junior tight ends Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann] and all the other guys made a couple big plays out there and got me open, so it was a team effort, and more so a tight end effort too,” Ruckert said.