With nine weeks to go before the kickoff of the 2014 Ohio State football season, The Lantern is in its second week of a 10-week series to highlight the 10 most important OSU football players for the upcoming season.
No. 9 Most Important Buckeye: Devin Smith, senior wide receiver
Smith, who is most notable for his speed and athleticism as well as his gravity-defying acrobatics and one-handed catches, returns to lead OSU’s receiving corps into 2014.
Smith’s highlight reel began rolling in 2011 when the 12th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers led Ohio State 29-26 with 30 seconds left on the clock. Then-freshman quarterback Braxton Miller scrambled out of the pocket and delivered a wobbling pass to a wide-open Smith for the game-winning score.
The 2012 season started in a similar fashion, but with a new coach – Urban Meyer. Miami (Ohio) led 3-0 at the beginning of the second quarter until Miller tossed the ball to the back-right corner of the endzone. Smith nonchalantly leapt into the air, snatched the ball with one hand and landed safely inbounds to give the Buckeyes the lead.
The following week the University of California and 12th-ranked OSU were tied at 28 in the fourth quarter until the Buckeyes snapped the ball with 3:36 to go. Miller rolled to his right and stared down an uncovered Smith. The duo connected yet again on a 72-yard pass play as Smith pulled in the ball and waltzed into the endzone to seal the victory for the scarlet and gray. Smith finished the game with a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith proved to be a vital asset for the passing game in 2012, and he solidified his position as a playmaker with two more game-winning drives against Michigan State and Indiana. He completed the 2012 season with two 100-yard games and a total of 618 yards on 30 catches with six touchdown receptions.
The highlight reel continued to roll into the 2013 season.
On second-and-six, only 1:39 into the first quarter against Cal, then-redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Guiton connected with Smith on a 90-yard touchdown pass. Smith’s speed created enough separation with Cal’s secondary to force a foot race to the endzone and the record books – a new school record for the longest play from the line of scrimmage.
He finished the 2013 season second in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns with 660 yards on 44 catches and eight touchdowns.
There’s no denying Smith’s athleticism or status as a playmaker, even with a slump at the end of the 2013 campaign where he accounted for only 136 yards on 9 receptions and 2 touchdowns in the final six games.
Despite these shortcomings, his numbers are still impressive. Since the start of his career, Smith played in 39 games, made 88 receptions, amassed 1,572 yards and found the endzone 18 times.
With a young offensive line and the loss of fellow receiver Corey “Philly” Brown and running back Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes will look to the senior route runner to not only be the catalyst to jump start the offense but also the mentor to guide the rest of the receiving corps into the season.
Smith is set to be paired up with Dontre Wilson, the first H-back in Coach Meyer’s offense at OSU, and he will be instrumental in developing the vertical-passing aspect of the spread offense.
Smith has the speed to create separation in the secondary, the instincts to find the ball, the finesse to secure the ball and the experience to make the play when the game is on the line.
Smith’s on-field production and off-field leadership will play a critical role as the Buckeyes kick off Aug. 30 against Navy, and that is why he makes the list of most important Buckeyes for 2014.