Past performances in Michigan rivalry boosted Ohio State football receiver Chris Olave's career

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Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave's breakout performance as a Buckeye was his two-touchdown performance against Michigan in 2018.
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave's breakout performance as a Buckeye was his two-touchdown performance against Michigan in 2018.

Chris Olave burst through a hole in the line of scrimmage and charged toward Michigan punter Will Hart.

The ball had been lifted just slightly into the air off the right foot of Hart before Olave laid out and blocked it.

As it bounced off the turf at Ohio Stadium, cornerback Sevyn Banks grabbed the ball and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.

The block gave the Buckeyes a jolt of momentum in their 62-39 rout of Michigan in 2018, the first of five touchdowns over the second half of the romp.

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It was also part of Olave’s breakout performance. The then-freshman, who entered with only five career catches and no touchdowns, twice found the end zone against the Wolverines in addition to his game-altering sequence on special teams.

Saturday will be his last appearance in The Game when Ohio State visits Michigan for their 117th meeting. Reflecting on his career earlier this week, he said he views his debut in the rivalry as a personal turning point.

“It definitely changed the way my career was going,” said Olave. “It kind of boosted my confidence a little. Having that specific game was huge for me, having everybody celebrate me and get around me and tell me so many things after that gave, it definitely boosted my confidence.”

As a sophomore the following season, Olave stepped up as a favorite target for new quarterback Justin Fields and has remained a consistent weapon in the passing game for C.J. Stroud, who succeeded Fields behind center.

In last weekend’s win over Michigan State, he took over as the Buckeyes’ all-time touchdown receptions leader when he caught his 35th career haul in the end zone.

Olave, also a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist this fall, said the opportunity to again line up against Michigan was a factor in his decision to put off the NFL last winter and return for his senior season.

Last season’s game was canceled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases within the Wolverines’ program.

“I wanted to play in this game one more time,” he said. “The atmosphere is crazy, always when we play them. Being the rivalry, being at Ohio State for this game is huge, it definitely was a thing in my mind.”

Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, here catching a touchdown pass behind Michigan's Josh Metellus in 2019, said one reason he returned to OSU this season was for one more game against the Wolverines.
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave, here catching a touchdown pass behind Michigan's Josh Metellus in 2019, said one reason he returned to OSU this season was for one more game against the Wolverines.

It left him with an odd feeling after missing out on the game in Columbus.

“It was a weird year, a COVID year,” he said. “Three of our games got canceled. Unluckily that was a game that got canceled, but I'm just glad we get to play in it this year.”

Olave had a notable follow-up performance as a sophomore in 2019, catching a 57-yard touchdown from Fields in the first quarter of another blowout over the Wolverines.

He said the program’s year-round emphasis on the rivalry with Michigan helped elevate his performance in those games.

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“It's a competitive game, one of the best rivalries in sports,” Olave said, “so when it comes to that game, all the preparation we have in the offseason, winter, spring, summer, and even fall camp, it comes to this week and putting everyone on the line. That’s the competitor that comes out in me and the rest of the team.”

The stakes of the matchup are even higher this week, with the winner clinching the Big Ten East Division and advancing to the conference championship game.

The Wolverines have bounced back this season after going 2-4 in last fall’s pandemic-shortened season.

Much of their improvement has been on defense, jumping from 84th to 10th in the FBS in total defense with first-time coordinator Mike Macdonald, .

Olave acknowledged the potential test from Michigan with its standout pass rushers led by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and a secondary led by versatile safety Daxton Hill.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge for us,” Olave said, “but at the end of the day, we just got to go compete.”

He’s been up to it before.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Chris Olave traces his success at Ohio State to Michigan win

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