Whether it was that old maxim about “ignorance is bliss” or maybe the one about just being “too young to know any better,” Chris Olave, Ohio State’s third-string freshman receiver, said he wasn’t nervous at all when he was sent into the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
“Naah, not at all,” he said afterward.
And then he explained:
“Growing up, I was on the West Coast and I was a Pac-12 fan. I watched all those games. I didn’t get to know about Ohio State until I was in high school, and I didn’t see one of their games against Michigan until last year on TV.
“I thought it was just another game.”
So when he came in Saturday — in front of a roaring crowd of 106,588, against the No. 1 defense in the nation — he didn’t flinch.
Olave scored Ohio State’s first two touchdowns – both 24-yard receptions of Dwayne Haskins passes – one just 3 1/2 minutes into the game and the other at the 9:08 mark of the second quarter.
And Olave wasn’t done. In the third quarter, he made a diving block of a Michigan punt. Teammate Sevyn Banks picked up the ball and ran it 33 yards to the end zone for another score.
Olave’s wondrous performance – on a day full of them for the Buckeyes – triggered OSU to a stunning 62-39 rout of the favored Wolverines.
It’s the most points OSU has ever scored in this storied rivalry that began in the 19th century.
The Buckeyes have won 14 of their last 15 games against Michigan and extended their victorious streak to nine in a row at Ohio Stadium.
But this year things were supposed to be different.
Michigan came in the No. 4 team in the nation. It was 10-1, having won every game since a season-opening 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.
The Wolverines were favored by 4 ½ points and many folks though they’d rough up the Buckeyes even more. Although 10-1 and ranked No. 10 in the nation, OSU had been embarrassed by lowly Purdue and struggled against unheralded teams such as Nebraska and Maryland.
“We didn’t pay any attention to the outside noise,” Olave said, “We just knew what we had to do.”
OSU scored 62 points and amassed 567 yards on a Michigan defense that had given up an average of just 13.5 points and 237 yards a game.
Before Saturday’s game Olave had caught just five passes for 70 yards and he had never scored.
He dropped a sure touchdown pass last week against Maryland, but said his teammates never doubted him.
“When Johnnie Dixon hurt his ankle today I went to Terry (senior Terry McLaurin) and asked if he wanted to take my reps,” Olave said. “All the guys said ‘No!’
“They believed in me. From then on I just played my role and did what I could do.”
Afterwards OSU coach Urban Meyer praised him:
“Buckeye Nation get used to (him) now. That’s the real deal. He came all the way across the country to be a Buckeye. And you could see right from the jump when he started practicing, he’s got the ‘it!’
Haskins – who threw for 318 yards and five touchdowns – agreed with Meyer:
“He came in as a freshman and you could see all the talent, all the skill in the world. He didn’t have an opportunity to play much this year so when he got in there he made it matter. And he was a really smooth, silky receiver. He made some big plays and I’m proud of him.”
Because he transferred high schools as a junior, Olave had to sit out his entire junior season.
“I had no tape nothing,’ he said. “Senior year I had five or six offers, but I didn’t have a highlight reel until halfway through the season. When I did, Ohio State jumped on it.”
The Buckeyes brought him out for the Michigan State game — an OSU rout — and made an offer.
He was supposed to visit Michigan next, but he said a family emergency caused him to cancel the trip.
“So you made the right decision, picking the Buckeyes over Michigan?” he was asked.
He laughed and nodded.
Even so he said he still had no idea about the intensity of the game until he was in it:
“It was crazy. Now I see it. It’s the biggest rivalry in sports.”
And how did he feel about forever going down in Buckeye lore?
The question threw him for a loop.
“Aaah…I don’t think it’s sunk in yet…It’s crazy that I could go down in the books.”
Yet for all his big plays – the two touchdown catches, the blocked punt – his most amazing feat may have come after the game.
As thousands of fans poured onto he field, he tried to find his family who had flown in from San Diego to watch him.
“People were taking pictures with me and hugging me, it was wild,” he said. “I couldn’t find my family but I kept looking and then I found them.
I saw my two brothers and they came running to me.
“That was cool…really cool.”
At that moment, Chris Olave said he finally understood.