Ohio State’s opener Thursday at Indiana has special meaning for receiver Terry McLaurin, an Indianapolis native.
But then, this particular opener could be played on Guam and still be meaningful for him, quarterback J.T. Barrett and the rest of the offense. It has been eight months since Ohio State suffered an inglorious shutout to Clemson, when big troubles in the passing game against credible defenses finally doomed the Buckeyes’ national title hopes.
Thursday represents the first chance for the offense, now directed by former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, to prove the Buckeyes have repaired their passing game.
“Champing at the bit for that,” said McLaurin, a fourth-year junior. “The season doesn’t end the way you wanted it to, and you come back and you’ve got to go through spring, go through training — that’s all part of it. … Everybody doesn’t get to see what we’re putting on the field every single day (in practice).
“So we’re just really excited to get that excitement back in the offense for Ohio State supporters.”
Wilson called the receiving corps the most improved part of the offense in preseason camp. Coach Urban Meyer has delivered similar assessments of the group, which is made up primarily of returnees and bit players from last year, including McLaurin, Parris Campbell, North Little Rock’s K.J. Hill, Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor.
Hill is a redshirt sophomore for Ohio State.
The barometer has been the play of fourth-year starter Barrett in preseason camp, Meyer said.
“(The) continued development of his accuracy and his relationship and timing with the wideouts,” he said. “To say that he mastered our offense, he’s done that quite a while ago. It’s just the timing, the execution and the trust.”
But McLaurin knows game production matters most. Do the receivers gain separation? Do they make the tough catch on a 50-50 ball? Do they convert the deep pass? The returnee group accounted for just 54 catches combined last season; team leader Curtis Samuel, now with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, had 74.
“I feel like we’ve really plugged some holes that we had, and some of the things that were missing last year, the deep ball, I feel like that’s going to be back,” McLaurin said. Gaining the confidence of Barrett to throw it their way, “I feel like we’ve instilled that. But you really don’t know until the first game.”
As for that coming at Indiana, in front of what he thinks could be 20 or more family members and friends, is notable in a couple of ways. Wilson recruited McLaurin four years ago to be part of the turnaround he had going on while Indiana’s coach. Now Wilson, deposed at Indiana last year after six seasons, is running the Buckeyes’ offense.
“He’s been the same guy since Indiana that he is now; really intense, you know what to expect,” McLaurin said. “He still gives me a hard time, tries to say I can’t catch, whatever, but I kind of calmed that down because I’ve been making a lot of plays. … I’m just glad to have him on our side now. He’s given the offense new life.”