COLUMBUS — Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce preached that Michigan games defined a team or a player or a coach.
Ohio State’s 62-39 win over Michigan last year didn’t define Chris Olave but it certainly was an extraordinary introduction for the then-freshman wide receiver from Mission Hills, Calif.
After catching only five passes in OSU’s first 11 games last season, Olave had two touchdown catches in the first half when the Buckeyes built a 21-6 lead early in the game. Then, after Michigan had made it a one-score game in the second half, he blocked a punt, Sevyn Banks returned it for a touchdown and the momentum all belonged to Ohio State.
Starting with that day, Olave has caught 13 touchdown passes in Ohio State’s last 14 games. He has 39 catches for 637 yards and 10 touchdowns this season for No. 1 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten).
“I believe it changed my career, having that game. We kind of build our program around that game. Having that game in that game specifically, I believe it changed my career,” Olave said earlier this week.
No. 13 Michigan (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) obviously will be more aware of Olave on Saturday than it was in 2018 when OSU goes to Ann Arbor to try to extend its seven-year winning streak over the Wolverines.
“I don’t think anybody really knew up until that game what he was capable of. What you’ve seen afterwards is what he is capable of,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
“Obviously to play in a game like that and to become a legend in the history of the game as a freshman, to block a punt, have two touchdowns, that’s just unbelievable. Look what he’s done from there. That was a great way to start off his career,” he said.
Olave says what he did against Michigan gave him “a spark of confidence.” That spark is now more like a blaze.
“They say big time players step up in big games and I believe I’m that,” Olave said after catching a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that regained the momentum for Ohio State in a 28-17 win over Penn State last Saturday after the Nittany Lions had scored 17 unanswered points.
After last year’s game, Olave admitted the Ohio State-Michigan game did not make a big impression on him when he was growing up in California.
“I didn’t know anything about it (the Ohio State-Michigan game). I watched them and it was just like a regular game to me. But I got here and it all changed. I know it’s the biggest rivalry in sports history,” Olave said.
His exposure to the importance, the history and the hyperbole of the rivalry began as soon as he got to Columbus.
“Coming here, I didn’t really think that was going to be a huge deal, but when I saw all the clocks in the building counting down to that game, that’s when I knew it was huge,” Olave said.
“I didn’t really know how much the rivalry was when I first got here because I’m from the West Coast, but when I first got here, everybody was talking about it. I believe we had a workout that day, and we had to do Team Up North abs, which is like after a workout, we do how many days counting down, that’s how many abs we got to do for that day and that’s when I first heard of the rivalry.”
Michigan won’t be surprised by Olave this year. But he might have been a little surprised by his big game against the Wolverines last season, too.
“I just came into every week, trying to make a play when I got on the field, and that’s the game where I got a huge opportunity, and I took advantage of it,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.