The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and Garrett Wilson as a punt returner? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Also, just for fun, why did Wilson choose to wear #18 for special team exclusively?
— Clark Van Lieshout (@clarkvan33) December 1, 2019
Garrett Wilson is a special talent for Ohio State, no matter which number he’s wearing.
It’s possible the No. 5 jersey could be a best-seller already if Ohio State was allowed to put it on clothing racks. That’s how good Wilson is already as a wide receiver that Justin Fields can get the ball to. It could also be No. 18, the alternate jersey Wilson had to slip on for punt returns because the Buckeyes already had somebody wearing No. 5 on the field.
In either jersey, Wilson can be dangerous.
Take the first Buckeyes clash with Wisconsin this season for example. In a driving rainstorm, Wilson gathered a punt and took it 23 yards — and he almost broke free for a touchdown in the blowout victory over the Badgers.
But with every fantastic, eye-popping moment that Wilson makes that reminds fans that he is only a freshman, he can also make one that reminds fans that he’s, well, still a freshman — like the two muffed punts in the last three weeks against Rutgers and Michigan. Luckily for Wilson, those muffs came in two blowouts. They weren’t consequential.
The bad news? Every drive of every game the rest of his freshman season is consequential. It’s championship season, and the dropped punts can’t happen.
“Just taking my eyes off it, just a little windy,” Wilson said. “I thought I wasn’t going to make the catch, and then I’m running up too fast. I’m trying to fix it in practice. That’s all I can do.”
If he can get the catching part down, he can be one of the most explosive return men in recent Ohio State memory. But catching it is the trick. As Wilson continues to work through the dropping issues he only seems to have on punt returns — not during his time as a wide receiver on the field — experience matters.
An entire team is running down the field trying to tackle Wilson when he is a punt returner. That can cause him to take his eye off the ball. Or maybe it’s not even that. On the field at Rutgers, wind was gusting. Wilson coughed one up there. Michigan was the same, windy weather, and Wilson dropped one there. But during the last matchup against Wisconsin, it was raining and wet, yet Wilson held on to the ball and had a brilliant return.
He isn’t making excuses for himself. He knows with time, those miscues will work themselves out.
“It definitely comes with experience,” Wilson said. “So, the more I’ve been out there, the more comfortable I am. I definitely have been feeling like I belong out there more. Not saying I didn’t when I first was out there, but it comes with time.”
It appears Ohio State is giving him time. Following the muffed kick against Rutgers, coach Ryan Day gave his vote of confidence to Wilson before the Buckeyes welcomed Penn State in for a huge matchup. Wilson responded well.
“We have confidence in Garrett,” Day said. “He’s certainly a young player who made a mistake, and he’s going to learn from it and move on. But he’s going to practice better and again a lot of it goes back to how you practice, if you’re going to practice intently and do a good job with that, then, yeah, we’re going to have confidence because we see it in practice.
“If for whatever reason we don’t see it in practice, then we have to make a decision.”
The coaching staff obviously saw it in practice, because Wilson has continued to field punts. And he will in all likelihood continue to do so as the Buckeyes make a push for a national title. If they are going to do that, they can’t give away possessions with bad turnovers such as muffed kicks. Wilson knows that. Whether he is wearing his normal No. 5 or his alternate No. 18, his job remains simple on the punt return team.
“They just want me to catch the ball,” he said. “That’s the first thing. It’s on me, I have to fix [the drop issue.]”