COLUMBUS, Ohio – Perhaps we should’ve seen it coming. After all, Urban Meyer did warn us just about ten days ago. Curtis Samuel can be a difference maker for Ohio State.
“I think he’s our No. 1 player on offense right now,” Meyer said coyly during an Aug. 22 press conference. “He’s gotta stay healthy and he’s gotta go. I just love his skill set. I have him ranked No. 1 as a playmaker on offense.”
On Saturday, in front of 107,193 Ohio State fans, Curtis Samuel proved his head coach right. More than that, Samuel may have helped soothe some nerves of those Buckeyes fans, many of whom enter this season with trepidation as Meyer’s program replaces 12 NFL draft picks. You don’t just lose Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, Mike Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and Taylor Decker and get better on offense, do you? To uphold the standard those guys set, Samuel says the first thing is to admit you can’t be those guys.
“We just have a higher standard than last year,” Samuel said Saturday following his three-touchdown, 261-yard performance. “Coaches keep bringing up players from last year. We don’t want to hear that. We want to hear about us. It’s up to us to step up and for the coaches to bring us up instead of them. They’re just saying, ‘We had great guys like Michael Thomas last year, we need you to be not the same but better.'”
In an interesting and ironic twist, it may have been Braxton Miller’s move to wide receiver – and, of course, a foot injury that hampered Samuel most of 2015 – that kept him from emerging as that “No. 1 playmaker” last season.
“I felt like I always had the skill-set and the mentality to be a great player,” Samuel said. “It was just whenever the coaches felt I was ready. This year, they gave me the ball more. I’m excited for that.”
The Buckeyes certainly did give him the ball more. Samuel had 22 touches – 13 carries and a team-high nine receptions – and scored three touchdowns. Last year? He had 17 carries and 22 catches for the season. The Brooklyn native gives Ohio State something now that, perhaps, Braxton Miller was meant to supply a year ago: a wide receiver with the frame and talent to be a game-breaking offensive weapon at running back, wide receiver or any other way he can touch the ball.
“He had nine catches and 13 carries, 22 touches. I had 15 (touches) in my mind,” Urban Meyer said. “Some of those were from quarterback, some of them were from obviously receiver and tailback. He’s the first true hybrid I’ve had in a while where he’s big enough.”
Now the hype train begins to start up, and it should. Samuel’s abilities have never been a challenge; rather, getting him the ball was the challenge. Now he’s the team’s primary offensive player. Danny Landberg, his high school coach at Erasmus Hall, told Landof10.com in late July that the hiccups would only give the 5-foot-11, 200-pound hybrid back more motivation to be great when his time came.
“I just think it will help Curtis now, because he has something to prove,” Landberg said. “His mindset now is the same as when I challenged him to lead us to our first NYC championship in 2012, when he’d get the ball 25 times a game. ”
He has that ‘Eye of the Tiger’ now. He has not been able to show it yet, but when he’s given the right opportunity, he can do some immortal things with the ball in his hands.”
On Saturday, there were glimpses of the player Samuel could be – has been – will be, now that he’s the primary offensive player and fully healthy. That’s how offensive coordinator Ed Warinner wanted it – to push the Buckeyes’ newest Swiss Army knife to be his best. He might be even better than his coaches expected.
“We envisioned using him in multiple roles – deep passes, short passes, perimeter runs and inside runs – just a whole mixture,” Warinner said following the game. “He’s good at all of it. He probably played a little better, and made a few more plays, than I thought he might in the opener, but it was exciting to watch. I was happy for him.”
Now with expectations and season-opening results to match, Samuel will be tasked with his next challenge: to do it again. That, said Meyer, is what can happen at Ohio State. One day no one knows who you are, the next, you’re the Big Man on Campus. Last year, Samuel was an afterthought; today, he showed off the afterburners and put himself on the map as one of college football’s most exciting offensive players.
“Careers are made here and legends are born,” Meyer said from a podium following the victory. “I tell the players that all the time. Ohio State is different, man. You start making plays and, all of a sudden, people know who you are at the national level.”