Heading into Ohio State's Big Ten opener against Minnesota on Sept. 27, head coach Jim Tressel had made it a priority to get more wide receivers into the game than the Buckeyes had been using during the first four games of the season. Senior Brian Robiskie and junior Brian Hartline had been asked to do too much, he said, and the decision had been made to relieve them of some in-game responsibilities.
Then the Buckeyes went out and called "27 or 28" passes, Tressel said, actually attempting 22 of them split between two quarterbacks. While a number of wideouts saw more extensive playing time than what they had seen early, the final results were mixed.
In all, five players caught passes. During the team's 35-3 loss to USC, the Buckeyes completed passes to seven different targets. Ironically, the leading beneficiary this time was Robiskie, who hauled in eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns – his most prolific game of the year.
In the first four games of the year, Robiskie had caught 12 passes for 113 yards and two scores. He said he did not view the situation as a wake-up call or as a situation where Tressel was trying to send him a message of any kind.
"I just see it that he's got a lot of guys," he said, "especially with the receiver group, just how deep we are. There's a lot of guys that are capable of making plays. We just have to get them on the field."
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the decision to more liberally rotate wide receivers was freshman Lamaar Thomas, who posted his first multi-catch game of the season. Although his two receptions went for just four yards, it upped his totals to three catches for nine yards as a true freshman.
The wholesale substitutions did hurt the Buckeyes in one particular arena: the huddle. On one drive late in the third quarter, OSU was whistled for two illegal substation penalties. Those problems were covered up on the stat sheet by a 31-yard touchdown catch by Robiskie, but they did not escape Tressel's attention.
Apparently, the Buckeyes were warned before being flagged for the infractions.
"Not only did we get two penalties, we were warned, ‘Hey, you know, you've got like 15 guys out there at a time,' " Tressel said. "I told the ref, I said, ‘Obviously it's not to deceive them, because we're deceived, we're not even sure who's supposed to be out there.' "
Penalties aside, Robiskie said he thought the rotation went well.
"Obviously it's frustrating to have a penalty," he said. "It's never good to have that, but … that was one of the only problems that we had. For not practicing it too much or for that being the first game I thought we did a pretty good job with it."
After suffering a shoulder injury during fall camp, Robiskie insisted throughout the early season that the injury was not lingering and had no effect on his play. At his weekly press luncheon following the Minnesota game, Tressel said it looked like Robiskie was "a lot healthier than he had been a couple of weeks ago."
The team's offensive player of the game, Robiskie admitted that he has been battling an injury that has affected him at various points throughout the season.
"Come the start of the game Saturday I feel 100 percent every week, but depending on how the game goes and what happens I feel a little bit (worse)," he said. "(It) just depends on how the game is going and how I get hit on it, but it doesn't have any specific hurt."
Moving forward, Tressel mentioned Robiskie as a player the team will need to count on in order to be successful within the Big Ten. If his shoulder continues to give him issues, it appears all parties are confident in the players behind him on the depth chart.
If his shoulder is fine, he figures to continue to have competition for playing time.
"It was valuable, I think, for our guys to get in there," Tressel said. "I can't remember a whole bunch of things that the younger receivers didn't do well that caused us major problems, so hopefully they can be counted upon."