Through the first two weeks of the season, it’s easy to see how defenses are going to attack the Buckeye offense. Whether it be Navy’s 3-4 defense or Virginia Tech’s bear front, opponents have been determined to take away the running game and force the Buckeyes to beat them through the air.
So far, that’s been a 50-50 proposition. Ohio State did rally past Navy in its opener but fell to Virginia Tech last weekend under the lights. But perhaps a glimmer of hope was to be found in the loss to the Hokies in the play of sophomore Mike Thomas, who recorded a team-best 98 yards receiving on six catches. Both of those figures were career bests, and Thomas also made a big play in the third quarter on a caught a pass on a slant route, made a tackler miss, and raced for a 53-yard touchdown that brought some energy to a sleepy Ohio Stadium.
“It’s just like a dream come true to be out there wearing the Scarlet and Gray and make plays on that field in that great stadium,” Thomas said.
Through the first two games, Thomas leads the wide receivers with nine receptions for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first coming in the final minutes of the season opener vs. the Midshipmen on a 9-yard connection from redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.
Thomas’ big play against Virginia Tech is exactly what OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith said the wide receivers need to do.
“What we’re looking for and what we’re capable of is taking a screen 80, taking a jet sweep 90,” Smith said. “We have done that in the deep throw game, but we haven’t done that in the quick throw game. That’s the biggest thing we need to do. We had limited opportunities in doing that, but we had opportunities and it didn’t happen. It needs to happen, and it will.”
Thomas came to Ohio State in 2012 after a prep school year at Fort Union (Va.) Military Academy, where he roomed with Cardale Jones. As a freshman with the Buckeyes, Thomas caught three passes for 22 yards and appeared in 11 games for the unbeaten Buckeyes. A year later, however, Thomas fell off the depth chart and took a redshirt.
“I took it as a developmental year,” Thomas said of his 2013 season. “I just worked, came out every day and went against (cornerbacks Bradley) Roby and Doran (Grant) and just kept working, kept grinding to develop my skills.”
The 6-3, 203-pound sophomore began his third year at Ohio State back in the wide receiver rotation, officially listed as the backup of senior Devin Smith. Thomas said that despite his early-season success, the wide receivers were disappointed they could not make more plays against Virginia Tech.
“We hold each other accountable. We’re supposed to make plays,” said Thomas, who was the only Buckeye wide receiver to catch more than one pass against the Hokies.
The Buckeyes spent time this week practicing against the Cover-0 defense utilized by Virginia Tech, and Thomas said the key to success against that type of defense is “making plays when they’re presented.”
Ohio State faces Kent State Saturday afternoon, and it appears to be a good opportunity for the Buckeyes to bounce back. The Golden Flashes are 0-2 after losses at home to Ohio and South Alabama. Kent State has allowed 238½ yards per game through the air and 392 yards of total offense per contest.
“We just want to get that bad taste out of our stomach,” Thomas said. “For a lot of guys it seems like it’s been the longest week ever. We’re just waiting to get back in the Shoe and make Buckeye Nation proud.”