COLUMBUS — Ohio State tight end Luke Farrell wasn’t going down.
Not after hearing for the last three years that the tight ends were finally going to get the ball more and become a big part of the offense. Not after having to rotate at tight end for the first five weeks of the season because the unit is one of the deepest on the roster. And certainly not when three Michigan State defender collapsed on him seven yards short of the end zone.
Farrell’s first touchdown catch of the season, a 21-yard grab from Justin Fields in the second quarter, wasn’t on a play meant for him. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he was the fourth option in the route progression. When Farrell caught the ball, he still had the hard part to accomplish: Fight to get to the end zone.
“I saw the goal line,” Farrell said. “And I was like: ‘I’m not going down.'”
The score was fitting for the tight ends this season. If one of the first three options were open, Fields would have fired the ball into a receiver for a touchdown. But instead, the receivers were all covered. Fields found Farrell in the middle of the red zone, and Farrell did the dirty work for the score.
The hard work Farrell had to show to get to that point didn’t go unnoticed, either.
“Proud that he made that big play, and we needed that play in that game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Not only that catch and being where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there, but to break a tackle with one of the better linebackers in the country in [Joe] Bachie and scores a touchdown. That was great for him and well deserved.”
Well-deserved is a good way of saying it. Farrell has been talked about all offseason leading into the year because he had a strong second half of last season. He had at least one catch in seven straight games a year ago. He climbed the depth chart and began this season as the leader of a talented stable of tight ends, coached by co-offensive coordinator and successful tight ends coach Wilson.
But even after the success, Farrell hasn’t played as confidently as Wilson might like.
“I think he is a better football player than he thinks he is,” Wilson said. “I’d like to see him play with a lot more confidence, swagger, whatever way you look at, I’d like to see it. I think he’s capable of being a really complete tight end player. Not because you make one catch. I’m talking in the blocking game and his ability to finish some blocks.
“He’s doing a great job in pass [protection], does really well in perimeter. He’s our most consistent guy. I’m really challenging him. As good as he’s playing, I think he can be having that physical, dominating presence you want. I think he can really help us.”
Farrell already has really helped the Buckeyes. Before his touchdown catch, Ohio State was clinging to a three-point lead and wasn’t mustering much offense. Farrell’s grab gave the Buckeyes a 10-point advantage and spurred the second-quarter dominance that ultimately gave them a blowout win over a top-25 team.
That play, and that momentum shift induced by the Farrell touchdown didn’t just happen Saturday. It came at the right time for Farrell, who adjusted his practice habits in the week leading up to the game hoping it would make a difference.
“We went through a couple goals for this week, and one of his goals was to have better effort in practice and to have better film study,” Wilson said. “Here’s a guy doing it better than anyone I got saying: ‘I want to be better in those areas.’
“Those are some of those neat skills and qualities that great players have. He’s got a good physical skillset, but he’s got a great inner drive.”
The production will still come from the other three tight ends. Each has shown a reason why the rotation is deep enough for the way the Buckeyes play the tight ends. Jeremy Ruckert was a highly-rated prospect who caught two touchdowns in the opener and has shown flashes of brilliance. Rashod Berry has made big catches throughout his career, including a touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl against Washington last season. Jake Hausmann threw a big block that allowed J.K. Dobbins to get free on the 67-yard score later in the game.
As talented as the other three tight ends are, it’s hard to take Luke Farrell off the field. He has always been the most consistent. And he has always been a head-down, grinding worker that can do everything Ohio State wants a tight end to do.
He can even muscle his way into the end zone with three defender draped on him for a crucial score against a ranked opponent.
“It just felt amazing,” Farrell said. “When you put so much work and energy into everything you do and it pays off like that and you can contribute on the scoreboard like that, there’s no better feeling.”
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