The "When is the tight end going to be a factor in the passing game?" story at Ohio State is as old as the top two tight ends on the Buckeye squad – more on that later – but the fact that Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett haven't been prime targets for the Buckeyes this season isn't because they lack any sort of skill.
As Hinton has made major efforts to explain, the lack of balls to the Buckeyes' big bodies has been a result of function, not form.
"There are a couple of plays that we called that I thought going into the (Penn State) game the tight end would get the ball – we all thought the tight end would get the ball – (and) Penn State didn't cooperate," Hinton said Monday. "But on the one they took the two defenders and guarded the tight end on it, well Carlos Hyde caught a pass, went down the sideline, and that's okay. Really. And the bottom line is that we all get what we want if we win."
But Hinton spoke those words perhaps already secure in the knowledge that today's game against Purdue could be a different story. It's not just because Purdue entered with a 1-6 record but because the defense first-year head coach Darrell Hazell's staff had drawn up left some things open for the tight ends.
"It was a perfect defense for Jeff to get open like that – just how they play too high and they forget about the tight end," quarterback Braxton Miller said after the game.
Did they ever. By the time the Buckeyes' 56-0 blowout win was done, Heuerman had hauled in five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, while Vannett had grabbed two passes for 21 yards and another score, the first receiving TD of the sophomore's career.
Those players were wide open on a number of those players – none more so than when Heuerman ran a simple out pattern on OSU's second offensive play of the game. With cornerback Ricardo Allen having to respect Carlos Hyde underneath and no safety help over the top, Heuerman was wide open along the left sideline at the 20, caught the ball, cut upfield and raced home for a 40-yard TD that made it 14-0.
Rather than gloat – at least publicly – about the longest catch of his career at OSU, Heuerman gave credit to his teammates in the postgame press conference.
"Having all those guys be so good and so productive puts me in a position where it makes my blocks almost easier sometimes, it makes my routes easier," Heuerman said. "When you have Devin Smith running down and you have me in the flat, who are you going to cover, you know? I appreciate those guys."
He had reason to brag, though. Heuerman's yardage total made him the first Ohio State tight end to top 100 yards receiving since Rickey Dudley had 106 against Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. The 116 yards was also the most for an OSU tight end since John Frank had 123 at Michigan in 1983 – a full 30 years ago.
"Heuerman's an excellent player," head coach Urban Meyer said. "You wish he had more touchdowns, more catches, but the defense dictates where the ball's going."
And on this day, the defense dictated one thing – the ball was going to the tight ends, something the Buckeye quarterback was happy to see.
"You gotta reward big guys like that all the time," Miller said. "They do a hell of a job blocking for the running backs and me as well."
The catches lifted Heuerman to 20 grabs on the year in nine games, while Vannett boosted his total to six. Whether those numbers jump precipitously or slowly over the final three games of the regular season will likely be of no mind to the two players.
Hinton had that proved to him last week when he ran into Heuerman in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the topic of the team's clicking offense came up.
"In that conversation Jeff looked at me and he said, ‘Coach, we have a lot of good dudes on this team,' " Hinton said. "That was his quote, you know, ‘We got a lot of guys that can go.'
"Who cares who gets the credit, how that game planned work, if we are executing at 63 points? We're good, trust me, let's keep executing at that level."