Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Devin Smith is a question mark at times, but at the end of the Buckeyes’ game against California Saturday the sophomore receiver was the answer.
With 3:26 left in the game and the score tied at 28, OSU was faced with a third and seven at their own 28-yard line. Coach Urban Meyer called a pass play designed for junior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown that he hoped would extend the drive.
Smith’s job on the play was “merely to clear out” according to Herman, but a coverage lapse from California left Brown double covered and Smith wide open down the right sideline.
As the ball floated toward him, Smith said he heard his mom’s voice in the back of his head.
“My mom tells me every time I catch the ball to run like a dog is catching you,” he said. “As soon as I caught the ball, that’s all I was thinking in my mind.”
Whatever he was thinking, it worked because after he caught the ball, he sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 72-yard score to put the Buckeyes up for good.
“We live for that,” Smith said of his big play. “I dreamed of being wide open and catching those balls. I had to make a big play and that’s what I did.”
It’s not the first time Smith has made a big play. Smith’s game-winning 40-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin in 2011 became the signature moment of last season and his one-handed grab against Miami the first game of the this season was nominated for play of the year.
The tough plays aren’t what has plagued Smith, though.
In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Smith fended off a Bears defender and plucked a back shoulder throw out of the air for a 25-yard touchdown. Herman said the level of difficulty in that play was probably higher than the one that ended the game.
But Smith also had two drops in the first half, at least one of which would have given OSU a first down and extended the drive.
It’s that lack of consistency that has “frustrated” his coaches since training camp.
“Devin was certainly a guy that was a question mark coming into camp, but has gotten much better. He is nowhere near a finished product,” Herman said. “He was a guy that hadn’t really studied his playbook or hadn’t been very trustworthy as far as being in the right place at the right time. He continues to improve on that.”
Smith, who finished the game with 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, said he’s still waiting on a compliment from Meyer.
“(Meyer) told me I was going to have to make catches like that all the time. The catch I had today to win the game and he told me not to drop another ball,” Smith said.
But despite the inconsistency, Meyer can’t keep Smith off the field because his big-play potential is too high to ignore.
“Yeah, he dropped a couple, but we need a home-run hitter,” Meyer said. “When you take a really hard swing every once in a while, you’ve got to hit it out of the park.”