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Can Egbuka end Ohio State’s kickoff drought?

COLUMBUS — Freshman Emeka Egbuka might be the closest thing to a game-breaking kick returner Ohio State has had in a long time, but OSU coach Ryan Day says he would vote to do away with kickoffs for the safety of the players if it were up to him.

Egbuka is first in the Big Ten and third nationally with an average of 34.4 yards per return.

He had returns of 67 yards, 46 yards and 33 yards against Maryland the last time OSU played and also had a 36-yard return against Tulsa, but none of his returns have produced a touchdown.

That’s nothing new at Ohio State, where Jordan Hall’s 85-yard return for a touchdown against Michigan in 2010 is the last time the Buckeyes scored on kickoff return.

That is the longest current stretch without a touchdown on a kickoff return in the Big Ten.

Michigan, Penn State and Rutgers all scored on kickoff returns in 2020. Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa did it in 2019.

Minnesota and Nebraska found the end zone on kickoff returns in 2017 and Northwestern did it in 2016. Michigan State (2014), Purdue (2014), Illinois (2013) and Indiana (2012) have gotten touchdowns that way more recently than OSU.

Ohio State’s drought hasn’t happened for lack of trying or lack of speed. Parris Campbell, Dontre Wilson, Demario McCall and Curtis Samuel are some of the players who have returned kicks for OSU since 2010. Ezekiel Elliott and Devin Smith each tried it once.

But former Buckeye Jameson Williams, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns for Alabama against Southern Mississippi earlier this season, never returned a kickoff when he was at Ohio State.

Day says OSU is “choosing our spots” when to return kickoffs and when to take the ball at the 25-yard line. Egbuka has a more aggressive outlook.

“Our mindset is to return every kick if we can,” he said after a 66-17 win over Maryland. “We’re always looking to break one open. We know we have the best kickoff return unit in the nation. We’re here to prove that.”

Day said the entire return unit plays a big role but it takes some special qualities in the return man to be successful. And, Egbuka has showed he has them.

“A big part of it is having the strength and size and the courage to run through all the smoke. You kind of saw it in the preseason but that wasn’t live. Now we have some evidence he can do it,” Day said.

Egbuka said, “I feel like it (a touchdown on a kick return) is definitely coming. It’s something I’ve just got to keep going at. We know we’re going to bust one open. Just waiting on it.”

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