Ohio State freshman running back Dontre Wilson is fast. No one involved with the OSU football program has denied that, but when it comes to playing time, the coaching staff hasn’t been as quick to give Wilson the ball lately.
Wilson recorded eight offensive touches in each of the back-to-back games against San Diego State and California. But in the three games since, he only had six offensive touches total and did not see the field on offense at all against then-No. 16 Northwestern.
Although still seeing the field as the primary kick returner for the Buckeyes, Wilson’s offensive presence has diminished just as it seemed he was starting to make a significant impact.
The return of senior Carlos Hyde from a three-game suspension, stemming from an incident at a Columbus bar in July, has influenced the usage of other running backs, with a lion’s share of the carries going to Hyde, but Wilson’s role as an H-back in coach Urban Meyer’s offense has mysteriously decreased as well.
Meyer said in the Big Ten teleconference last week, though, that pairing Hyde and Wilson could be dangerous for the Buckeyes.
“I do like a big back, and boy, (Hyde) ran really hard and physical. I think if you have a Dontre Wilson and a Carlos Hyde as a tag team back there, I think that’s exactly kind of what you’re looking for,” Meyer said.
Following Wilson’s biggest game of the season against Cal, where he notched career-highs of 59 and 48 yards rushing and receiving, respectively, Meyer said Wilson was a “breakaway talent.”
“Last year our breakaway talent was only (Braxton Miller). And now there’s some other guys that have a bit of a breakaway,” Meyer said. “(Dontre Wilson’s) a guy I have off the top of my head … To have a horizontal threat in this offense, other than your quarterback, that’s a must.”
Wilson scored his only touchdown of the season against San Diego State but said after that, despite his success against the Aztecs, adapting to the college game has proven difficult.
“It’s a very big difference. Everybody’s fast, even the D-lineman are fast, (everybody is) flowing to the ball. Speed option, anything like that, everybody is getting to the ball,” Wilson said.
He added that the touchdown was a “feeling I’ll never get again.”
“I love scoring and just for it to be my first college football touchdown, it was a blessing,” Wilson said.
Although many involved in the football program feel the potential to be great is there, some OSU players and coaches have said they think Wilson needs to grow into a more complete player before he can contribute to the offense.
On Sept. 30, senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said Wilson is headed for a great career but needs to grow up as a player first.
“Dontre is going to be a ridiculous player here at Ohio State. Obviously he has a lot of stuff to clean up and that’s why he doesn’t play as much as he should,” Brown said. “But I feel like as he matures, he can potentially be one of the best players to ever play here.”
Meyer has said on multiple occasions he thinks Wilson is talented, but there are aspects of his game that are lacking.
“There are some weapons that are going to develop. Dontre Wilson, that’s a guy that … once we get him stronger, he’s going to be a good player for us,” Meyer said after the game against Cal.
Meyer even went as far as to call Wilson a “novelty” for the offense Wednesday.
“He’s got to become a football player. Right now, he’s a novelty,” Meyer said. “That’s why he didn’t play much Saturday. So we’re working really hard over the bye week to make him a football player, not just a hood ornament.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said Wednesday when Wilson is on the field, it is too obvious to opposing defenses he is going to be a part of the play.
“The biggest thing is he’s got to be able to go in the game and play different positions and it not be a red flag that this guy is either getting the ball or getting faked the ball,” Herman said. “He’s got to just be a regular guy, whether it be as a slot receiver or in the backfield. He’s got to be trustworthy enough to put on the field and say he’s just a guy running a route.”
Wilson looks to make an impression on the coaching staff and earn back some playing time as the Buckeyes prepare for their next matchup at Ohio Stadium, scheduled for Saturday against Iowa at 3:30 p.m.