Smith is averaging 27.7 yards on his 32 catches this season and has 12 touchdowns to his name. But even when the ball doesn’t go No. 9’s way, it’s good for Ohio State.
“It loosens everything up,” receiver Evan Spencer said. “When you’ve got a receiver who can run by people so handily and just handle things like that so well, it works so much as an offense. It spreads them out, they have to account for him or on occasion they have to double him. If you double him you have to take someone else off of another responsibility and the offense starts moving and we just start going from there.”
That’s the thing about Smith’s deep-ball prowess, even when he isn’t the one making a play, he’s creating it. The threat of his game-changing speed and innate ability to get behind the defense creates opportunities underneath for his receiving counterparts like Spencer, Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall.
Smith, who sits second all time in the Ohio State record books with 30 career touchdowns, is adept at beating man coverage as few corners in the country are capable of staying with him down the field. He often forces double teams in man situations as the dynamic senior forces safety help. If the opposition is in zone, as Oregon typically is, Smith is able to stretch the coverage out of position down the field.
“They don’t play a lot of true man coverage,” wide receiver coach Zach Smith said of Devin Smith. “I guess the great thing about zone is at some point every coverage becomes a man coverage in a route.
“They don’t just give you the opportunity to beat them at the line and go win on the deep ball. You’ve got to really work at it and work route stems to get them to bite so that he can get behind them. I imagine they’ve probably got an idea that he is pretty good at that so they’re not just going to let it happen.”
Even if Oregon doesn’t let him get behind them, Smith will have an impact. He has found the end zone on 37.5 percent of his catches this season and been even more effective since big-armed Cardale Jones has taken over quarterback duties. In the two games that Jones has started, Smith has six catches with four touchdowns.
Smith’s impact extends beyond his own stats.
“His mentality is a team guy that wants everyone else to succeed,” Zach Smith said of his receiver. “So if he gets double covered on a go route, one it’s a sign of respect and two, that just means one of his boys is going to get an opportunity. He would love to catch every ball, I’m sure, but he is a big picture guy and he sees it and he’s happy that he can have that kind of impact, help the offense that way and help everyone else out.”
Oregon will be without its consensus All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in Monday’s CFP National Championship Game, as the senior injured his knee in preparation for the Rose Bowl. Ekpre-Olomu was probably the Ducks best option in covering Smith one-on-one and with him out, whoever covers the dynamic wide receiver will likely receive some sort of safety help. If that’s the case, Smith will open things up for everyone else.
“We’re all so selfless in our room that his success is our success,” Spencer said.