COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When practice ends at Ohio State, Noah Brown heads to overtime.
With quarterback J.T. Barrett in tow, Brown runs through a routine that became a staple of their offseason preparations in search of perfection in the red zone. Back-shoulder throws. Fades. Less-than-perfect passes that force Brown to adjust and make sure he gets a foot down inbounds.
All of that work is designed to make it easier for the Buckeyes when the moment to deliver for real comes along -- like, for example, an actual overtime session on the road against a top-10 opponent.
“We’ve done it all countless times,” Brown said. “We try not to come off the practice field without getting a couple of them in every day. That’s definitely a concerted effort to get it done. All throughout the summer, me and J.T. have been working on fades and end-zone passes like that, so having an awareness of the field, I’m pretty comfortable in that situation because I practice it a lot.
“I kind of found out after the Oklahoma game that people were wowed by things that we think are routine because we practice it so much. People don’t really understand the effort we put into it.”
In truth, there may not be any amount of practice that could have fully prepared Brown for his ridiculous, behind-the-defender’s-back touchdown catch last month against the Sooners, a play that relied on uncanny instincts, strong hands and circumstances that are hard to duplicate.
But his full-extension grab in the corner of the end zone in the extra session against Wisconsin last week that provided the winning margin is the perfect example of all those sessions with Barrett paying off for the unbeaten Buckeyes.
And it also again put Brown’s ability to run a crisp route, win a physical matchup against a defensive back and snare the ball with his freakishly strong hands in the spotlight as he nabbed his sixth touchdown of the season at a critical moment.
“You have to practice it, develop it, work it,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Michael Thomas developed that. I think Noah kind of had that when he got here. He’s worked on his body and his elusiveness, but he’s always had those ridiculous hands.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but usually when it gets in his area, he’s going to come down with it. He’s a big-bodied guy, contact is his friend. Smaller receivers, contact is not their friend. He’s a guy like Mike Thomas, he’s better in those tight situations.”
The spaces don’t get much more compact than the one he worked in for his famous catch against the Sooners. And now Brown also has proven he can deliver when the outcome is tight and hanging in the balance.
Certainly the redshirt sophomore has plenty of natural talent, from the size he uses so effectively at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds to his sharp hand-eye coordination. But Brown’s rise largely has been fueled by a willingness to work, even when a normal shift comes to an end.
“We can polish it up after practice, but really the work was done in the summer and creating those situations that you saw on Saturday,” Barrett said. “I don’t know how many times we practiced that, but that was the thing. That’s something that needed to be done then and not in the season.
“And then when you think about great receivers, I think they always have this mentality: ‘When it’s thrown in my direction, it’s mine. It’s my job to go get it.’ He does a great job of adjusting and when the ball is in the air, it’s his to have.”
And when overtime comes, the Buckeyes can trust that Brown will come down with it -- either on the practice field or in the real deal.