COLUMBUS — A primetime game between college football blue bloods. A stadium bursting at its 90-year-old seams with scarlet. A perfect season on the line.
When No. 12 Ohio State hosts 21st-ranked Nebraska for the first time since 1956 in today’s nationally televised Big Ten showdown at 8 p.m., a truly big-game air will return to Columbus for the first time since the program was rocked by scandal.
“A night game and one of the greatest stadiums of college football, it will be an inferno,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. “Plus you have a 5-0 football team getting ready to face a really good team, so I would anticipate it'll be as electric as it’s ever been.”
Or, in the words of Ohio State’s newest game-breaking threat, it will be a “beautiful sight.”
Devin Smith said he lives for nights like this, and in a game that could revolve on one big play, history suggests the sophomore burner may be the one to make it.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Massillon native has shown a flair for making the big catch in the biggest moments — and offered hope to the armchair quarterbacks clamoring for Ohio State to take more shots down the field.
A year after his 40-yard touchdown catch lifted the Buckeyes past Wisconsin in the final minute of their last night game at Ohio Stadium, Smith has pulled in the game-winning deep ball twice in the last three weeks.
His 72-yard touchdown catch on a broken third-and-long play lifted OSU over California, and he beat two-time all-conference cornerback Johnny Adams for a go-ahead 63-yard touchdown in last week’s win over Michigan State.
Not to mention his leaping one-handed touchdown snare against Miami (Ohio) that teammates called the best catch they had ever seen.
“I love making plays,” said Smith, who has 19 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
Asked if he plans to air it out more frequently, Meyer said, “The answer is yes. I’d imagine you’ll see more of it.”
It is not something he could have imagined thinking only months earlier. If you had told Meyer on, say April 14, that OSU would call for a deep pass in the second half of a critical Big Ten game, he said, “I would have looked at you like you had seven heads.”
“What I saw last year and then what I saw in spring practice, my concern was you can take all the shots you want, but if you don’t hit on them, it’s a waste of time,” he said.
Times have changed, with Smith and Corey Brown both assuming leading roles after a season on the fringe — the pair each had a team-high 14 catches last year.
While Brown has adeptly worked underneath as an effective extension of the running game, Smith has proven himself among the Big Ten’s top home run threats.
Coaches hope that, in turn, will help open up the offense.
More successful deep balls means defenses will have to divert their focus from guarding against quarterback Braxton Miller's legs.
"It forces the corners to bail,” Smith said. “When we get them out, it opens up the short game and the run game and we get extra yards.
"Once we do that, they’ll come back up and then we’ll take another shot down the field.”
Expect a few of those shots today.
Quarterback Braxton Miller anxiously noted the Huskers’ cornerbacks play tighter-than-usual man coverage.
“We’ve got to take advantage of it,” he said.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.