Austin Mack watched with glee and cheered enthusiastically with other veteran teammates as fellow receiver Jameson Williams jetted up the sideline, separating from a horde of Miami (Ohio) defenders for a 61-yard score on his second career reception.
Williams became the second freshman receiver the senior from Indiana witnessed make a touchdown catch Saturday. The other instance occurred when freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson hauled in a 38-yard bomb he snatched over a defender in the third quarter.
“I was ecstatic. I’m extremely happy for those guys,” Mack said. “Jameson, he always says to us in the room, ‘If I can catch the ball, I’m gonna take it to the house every time.’ We’ll laugh, like all you guys are laughing, but he really did it.”
Both first-year Buckeyes got their chance to shine against the Redhawks after Ohio State secured a 49-5 lead going into halftime, flashing the talents they bring to the program. With the young wideouts on the rise, the veterans still producing and four more four-star recruits on the way, how deep can the receiver rotation go?
“It’s on them,” wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said.
Hartline fielded questions Tuesday about the two sides of depth’s captivating coin.
Coaches regularly discuss the need for depth — to rotate, keep players fresh and have backups in case of injury. Hartline said Ohio State’s been developing the young players for those situations.
“We don’t have a ton of reps in practice that everyone can get the same amount of reps and get the same feel,” Hartline said. “If we’re able to learn from each other, and [Binjimen Victor] gets the rep at a certain position, does Garrett Wilson and Jameson and Austin Mack also have that mental rep, even though physically they didn’t do it?”
However, there are situations similar to what happened recently with junior safety Isaiah Pryor, who entered the transfer portal and will likely be gone from the program in short order.
After earning playing time as a sophomore in 2018, he hasn’t seen meaningful reps this season behind senior safety Jordan Fuller, after Ohio State’s transition to using one less safety in many defensive formations. He splits backup time with sophomore Josh Proctor and other players who aren’t safety who have rotated to that spot.
At receiver, the Buckeyes listed six starters during 2018 and listed four before the Miami game this past week. That number could grow with the emergence of Wilson, Williams or other athletes in the room.
More players going out for passes means lower individual production.
“It’s hard not to get frustrated. Especially for me, being a last year guy, you’re not gonna come around many [more] opportunities,” Mack said. “But it’s to stay humble. It’s to know that Terry only had 35 catches last year. To stay in your lane and make sure that — it’s a plan, it’s a process, and trust the plan.”
Veteran players growing frustrated at a lack of targets isn’t an issue, Hartline said. Rather he stated it would be odd for players not to be upset at their lack of usage after the work they put in.
What matters is that it doesn’t affect team performance.
“Get frustrated. It’s OK. It’s a passionate response,” Hartline said. “Don’t let it affect your play, don’t let it affect your teammates in the room.”
Mack and fellow senior receivers Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill each has one final year to show off for NFL scouts, giving them a further thirst for passes.
Mack said it only takes “one moment, one game to change your career.” He cited the example of Noah Brown, who caught four touchdown passes in 2016 at Oklahoma and a year later was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Mack added that it boils down to his role as a leader, blocker and someone who’s always open, even if he’s not getting the ball.
“As long as I look as clean as I can be on film, I know ultimately, my potential, even if my stats don’t look as good as they do, I know I can bet on myself that hopefully I’ll get a chance at the next level,” Mack said.
The ins and outs of how Ohio State rotates its receivers depends on recent performance. Head coach Ryan Day reiterated Tuesday, as he’s done throughout the year, that the players good enough to play will play.
“We’re only as good as our last rep. We’re only as good as our last game,” Hartline said. “In sports, we have amnesia. We forget everything that’s just happened, which is good. I think that the guys understand that, and week to week, we’re either earning more playing time or reaffirming why we’re on the field.”