Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Ohio State football fans are still talking about the game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Braxton Miller to fellow freshman Devin Smith that led the Buckeyes past Wisconsin last Saturday night.
While that late-game connection got most of the postgame attention, two other freshmen Buckeyes also combined to produce an equally important play earlier in the game.
Early in the third quarter, with OSU coming off a touchdown drive to take a 10-7 lead, the defense forced the Badgers to punt after a three-and-out. Freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier came free off the edge and blocked the kick as fellow freshman linebacker Curtis Grant recovered the ball at the Wisconsin one-yard line, setting up another Buckeye touchdown.
It was a momentum-changing play, and several true freshmen are getting plenty of opportunities to make them this season. Miller, Smith, Shazier and Grant are among 10 true freshmen listed on this week’s two-deep depth chart.
In his weekly Tuesday press conference, first-year coach Luke Fickell shared his philosophy on playing true freshmen.
“I think those guys, hey, if you can play, we’ve got to find a way to get guys on the field,” Fickell said. “Too often guys are sitting there on the sideline and halfway through the season you’d say, ‘Wow, I think he could have been better if we would have just played him early.'”
Fickell went on to share an anecdote from his OSU playing days about former Buckeye cornerback Shawn Springs dominating in practice as a redshirt freshman and how the coaches may have regretted not playing him sooner.
“So the ability to get those guys on the field as soon as possible, as early as possible, whether it’s just special teams, getting them reps on defense or offense during practice, I think is huge,” Fickell said.
Now halfway through the season, Fickell doesn’t view his first-year contributors as freshmen anymore.
“It comes down to how you perform in November,” he said. “And hopefully by Nov. 1, they’re not freshmen anymore. When they walk out on the field today, I’m not going to accept them making freshman mistakes. They’ve been here long enough.”
Shazier, who is Miller’s roommate, said he is really happy with the role he has had on the team this far.
“My goal was to come in and play, but it was really just to come in and help the team and just do whatever I could do to help provide the team with whatever they needed,” Shazier said. “… I feel that the coaches really trust me now on the field more.”
Running back Daniel “Boom” Herron, a redshirt senior who is consistently viewed as one of the leaders in the locker room, said it’s great to see the younger players contributing.
“You always want to see younger players stepping up and making plays,” Herron said. “Whenever you’ve got a younger player making plays, it’s good for the older guys, it takes a little bit off the older guys so they won’t have to do so much.”
The Buckeye freshmen will look to continue making impact plays at noon Saturday when Indiana comes to Columbus.