National Championship Preview: Ohio State's receivers

Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, right, catches a 39-yard touchdown pass as Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton defends during the first half of the Big Ten Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, right, catches a 39-yard touchdown pass as Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton defends during the first half of the Big Ten Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The first College Football Playoff National Championship Game is finally upon us and Dr. Saturday has your pregame prep covered. Every day leading up to the game, we’ll breakdown a piece of each team and preview its role in the upcoming title game. Previous previews: Ohio State's front 7, Oregon's front 7, Ohio State's secondary, Oregon's secondary, Oregon's O-line, Ohio State's O-line, Oregon's running game, Oregon's running game, Ohio State's running game..

Season highlight: The Ohio State receiving corps was able to rack up 300 receiving yards in a 49-37 win against Michigan State that put the Buckeyes’ passing game on the map. Prior to the bowl game against Baylor, Michigan State had only allowed one other team to pass for 300 yards (Oregon, 343). Ohio State amassed four 300-yard passing games this season, but only one was against one the nation’s best defenses.

Player to Watch: Devin Smith has been the favorite of Ohio State’s two quarterbacks this season simply because of his athleticism and his ability to get open deep. Smith leads the team with 32 catches for 886 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s a 27.7-yard average. His longest catch of the season was 80 yards and he has had a catch of at least 30 yards in every game in which he’s played this season. Smith is an invaluable weapon, especially for a young quarterback, because he goes up and gets every ball no matter how poorly it’s thrown.

Strengths: The Ohio State receivers catch nearly everything thrown in their path. The Buckeyes rank second in the country in team passing efficiency despite the fact that it prefers the run over the pass. Just once this season did now-injured starter J.T. Barrett throw for less than 60 percent — the loss to Virginia Tech where he threw 31 percent — and five times this season he completed 70 percent or better. Third-game starter Cardale Jones doesn’t have numbers as strong as Barrett’s, but he did complete 70.6 percent of his passes in his first start and he’s completed long passes of 44 and 47 yards in his two starts.

Weaknesses: If there’s a weakness to this receiving corps, it’s at quarterback. As noted above, Jones started out like a veteran against Wisconsin, but against a much better defense in Alabama, he only completed 51.4 percent of his passes. He did play better down the stretch and had some nice conversions on third down in the second half to help the Buckeyes to the win. Jones does have a cannon for an arm, it’s just a matter of settling down and avoiding the slow start, especially against a team like Oregon.

Overview: While Ohio State might have one of the best passing efficiency ratings in the country, the Ohio State receiving corps seems to pride itself on being much more than just a bunch of guys who catch passes.

During the semifinal game against Alabama, receiver Evan Spencer found fellow receiver Michael Thomas in the end zone for what ended up being an amazing, twisting, toe-tapping catch. It was Spencer’s first pass of the season, but not the first time a receiver has attempted a pass.

Following the game, Spencer didn’t spend a lot of time bragging about the pass, but rather the block he made during running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 85-touchdown run.

Smith had a 47-yard touchdown grab in the semifinal, but took just as much pride in downing several punts that pinned Alabama in its own end.

And then there’s Jalin Marshall, the only other receiver who has attempted a pass this season and is in charge of the wildcat offense. He’s called a “hybrid back” in Ohio State circles simply because of his diversity, which also includes being the fourth-string — and now backup — quarterback.

It's the little things that make this receiving corps good, but it’s been their ability to adapt to the rotation of quarterbacks that have made them special. Ohio State’s receivers had little trouble getting into a rhythm with Barrett after former starter Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

Against Wisconsin, the receiving corps rallied around new starter Jones and helped him throw for 257 and three touchdowns in his first start. Smith had 137 of those yards and all of the passing touchdowns.

Oregon’s passing defense will be without its top player in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but the passing defense seemed to do pretty well without him against Florida State. While the Seminoles threw for 348 yards, a lot of it was when it was trailing by a large margin and trying to get back into the contest. In fact, Oregon’s pass defense numbers are a little misleading simply because many teams abandon the run and become pass-heavy when they get into a deficit.

Ohio State might not have have a Hiesman Trophy winner at quarterback like Florida State, but it definitely has the same amount of diversity, which will put a strain on the Oregon defense. Ten players have caught at least 10 passes in the Buckeyes’ offense, and nine have at least 149 yards.

For more Ohio State news, visit BuckeyeGrove.com.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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