With only two receptions, but both on touchdown passes for 106 combined yards, Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith had an impressive and unique stat line last Saturday versus Indiana.
Beyond the numbers, however, Smith’s day was more frustrating than it was impressive.
While Smith caught two touchdown passes, there were four total passes that hit his hands, and the two that were dropped both would have also been touchdowns.
The first play that made Buckeye fans shake their head came in the middle of the first quarter. On a play that originated from the 37-yard line, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller hit Smith right on his hands with a laser more than 30 yards downfield between two defenders.
As you can see from the screenshot, Smith had plenty of space between the two defenders and could have easily strode into the end zone for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Smith started thinking about the touchdown before he made the catch and took his eyes off the ball—something he does far too often.
It resulted in a drop on a drive that eventually stalled and ended with a field goal rather than a touchdown.
That drop could conceivably be blamed on the pressure of having defenders coming toward him on either side, although it was still a catch he absolutely should have made. His second drop against Indiana, however, was inexcusable for a player of his caliber.
Having missed his first big-play opportunity of the game, he made up for it late in the second quarter.
Starting at the team’s own 40-yard line, Smith was able to beat Indiana redshirt junior cornerback Antonio Marshall off the line and up the right sideline. Miller found Smith on a deep ball more than 40 yards downfield, and he strolled the rest of the way to the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown.
Near the end of the third quarter, Smith had Mitchell beat again going up the right sideline from the 35-yard line, and Miller put a perfect pass right on his hands going into the right corner of the end zone.
This time, Smith did not even have to make a play to get to the end zone, but still, he seemingly lost concentration and let the ball go off his hands and to the turf for a frustrating incompletion.
The reason why this is all so frustrating is not that Smith is a bad receiver, or even that his drops have cost the team crucial points yet. The reason for the frustration is that Smith has displayed time and time again the potential to be a superstar, but is being held back by drops.
While commentating during a radio broadcast of Ohio State football early this season, I coined the nickname Devin “Big Play” Smith in a nod to his tremendous ability to change the game in one play.
On his fourth catch opportunity of the Indiana game, Smith showed he deserved that nickname with quite possibly the finest play this season.
Smith has made many big plays by simply beating opposing cornerbacks with his tremendous size and speed this season, but on this play, he showed his ability to catch a short pass and turn it into a big play. Initially having ran toward a cluster of three defenders, Smith made a sharp move toward the right sideline, and all three defenders ended up missing him on his way to the end zone for a 46-yard score.
Both his big plays and his drops, however, have been a staple of his game not only in the Buckeyes’ most recent contest, but throughout his sophomore season.
Smith’s most memorable big-play reception of the year came in the season opener, when he made a remarkable 23-yard touchdown catch in the end zone against Miami (Ohio).
In that game, however, he also had his first drop of the season, and his issue with drops has been persistent. Most of his drops have come on short passes, as a result of him losing focus, looking away before securely catching the ball and starting to run for a big play before ever taking the most important step: gaining possession.
As his big plays have grown, so have his drops.
Against California, Smith made a tremendous 25-yard end-zone catch over Cal cornerback Steve Williams, and later, he beat cornerback Marc Anthony in a completely blown coverage for a game-winning, 72-yard sprint to the end zone. In that game, however, he also had two drops.
Against Michigan State, Smith beat highly regarded Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams on a Braxton Miller laser. He ended up with a 63-yard touchdown that also went down as the game-winning score, but not before he had dropped a deep ball earlier in the game.
Smith has spectacular ability and tremendous size and athleticism that make him one of the nation’s top big-play threats. Smith has 457 receiving yards through seven games this season on just 21 receptions—an average of 21.76 yards per game that ranks sixth nationally among players averaging two or more receptions per game.
He also ranks tied for 14th nationally with six touchdown receptions this season.
The frustration with Smith, however, is that he could have so much more yardage. Against Indiana alone, he missed out on 72 yards and two touchdowns by dropping passes, and if he had all of the yardage he would have gained from his many drops this season, he would certainly rank among the nation’s leaders in receiving yardage.
Smith has all the skills to be a superstar, but currently, he is more Braylon Edwards than Calvin Johnson. While Smith makes big plays often, he also has major problems with focus and concentration when it comes to making simple catches.
For all the big plays Smith has, he has just as many drops, and if he is going to become a star wide receiver and reliable passing weapon, he has to overcome that plaguing issue.
The “Big Play” nickname carries a positive connotation, but it also reflects the fact that to this point, he can only be relied on to make big plays, not to be a consistent pass-catcher. If he can break that stigma that continues to plague him, he will become one of college football’s offensive superstars.
* All screenshots were taken using BTN2Go.
Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist and the New England Patriots game day correspondent for Bleacher Report. Additionally, Dan is an Ohio State student who broadcasts Buckeyes football games for Scarlet and Gray Sports Radio, and also covers football as a senior reporter for The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.