Let’s be frank, outside of a “greedy” pass that led to a pick-six for Bowling Green, very little went truly wrong for Ohio State in its opening 77-10 victory over the Falcons on Saturday. The lone exception might be the devastating injury to starting defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle.
The junior lineman had worked his way from Urban Meyer’s doghouse to a starting position, having proven himself after immaturity plagued his early days in Columbus. A vital cog in the 2015 defense, Sprinkle looked to be one of the few experienced veterans on that side of the ball for the 2016 Buckeyes, and was poised to have a breakout season.
However, less than a quarter into his first career start, Sprinkle tore his right patellar tendon after landing awkwardly from being pushed by a BG lineman. Now, the Ohio State coaching staff must find a way to fill the sudden gap the 6’3”, 293 pounder has left in the middle of the Buckeye front.
Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson has already been beating the now-familiar “Next Man Up” drum, and on Tuesday, red shirt freshmen Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton were listed as co-starters in place of Sprinkle; and for that reason, they are the defensive players to watch this week against Tulsa.
Name: Dre’Mont Jones
Year: RS Freshman
Weight: 280 lbs.
Name: Davon Hamilton
Year: RS Freshman
Weight: 297 lbs.
The Golden Hurricane offense comes directly from the Art Briles system, with all of the requisite bells and whistles that that entails. Head coach Philip Montgomery was Baylor’s Offensive Coordinator as recently as 2014, and brought to Tulsa the same gun slinging, high-paced attack we’ve gotten used to seeing in Waco.
In 2015, Montgomery’s offense threw for 4,332 yards, while rushing for 2,264. However, in their season opening 45-10 victory over San Jose State, Tulsa ran 83 plays, accounting for 512 total yards, but the breakdown was a little different than one would expect; 305 rushing yards versus 207 passing.
While no one would expect the numbers put up against the Spartans to be predictive of what the Golden Hurricanes will do against the Buckeyes, they do suggest that Montgomery’s offense might not be as reliant on the pass as it was a year ago. And, with four of five offensive line starters returning from last year’s team, whomever ends up replacing Sprinkle will go up against a seasoned group that hung 38 and 24 on Oklahoma and Houston respectively in losses last year.
While it was a different style of up-tempo offense than they will see this week, the Ohio State D did hold Bowling Green to just 244 yards on an otherwise impressive 72 plays. If they are going to be able to repeat anything approaching that level of performance in Week Two, the defensive line will have to be able to hold their own against the run, and to apply pressure on passing downs, as Tulsa will look to spread the field and get the ball into space as quickly, and as often, as possible.
What to watch for
Both Jones and Hamilton saw the field on Saturday in Sprinkle’s stead; Hamilton registering the pair’s only tackle, assisting on a sack. However, Jones was the first man up when Sprinkle went down, so the assumption is that unless Hamilton has an overwhelmingly strong week of practice, Jones will get the start, with Hamilton rotating in regularly.
Jones was more highly rated coming out of Cleveland St. Ignatius than Hamilton was from Pickerington Central, but he was primarily a pass-rushing end in high school, before moving inside at Ohio State. Now that it looks like Jones will be one of the Buckeyes’ primary linemen, keep an eye out for his ability to get pressure on the quarterback; a skill which made him a four-star recruit just a few years ago.
While he doesn’t have the imposing size of the other starting DT Michael Hill (6’3”, 305 lbs.), Jones does still possess the quickness that made him a highly sought after pass-rusher. In years past, the Ohio State defensive coaching staff could count on Joey Bosa pulling a double (or triple) team, freeing up other linemen to shed their blockers and get into the backfield.
Without a dominant force establishing itself on the line yet, the Buckeyes will rely on their depth and athleticism to compensate. If Jones can use his speed to put pressure on senior quarterback Dale Evans, it could go a long way to disrupting the Tulsa attack.
Dre’Mont Jones recruiting highlights
Unlike Jones, Hamilton was recruited as a tackle, and has a little more of the typical DT body that Ohio State has become accustomed to in recent years with the likes of Hill, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Shutt, Michael Bennett, et al.
That said, Head Coach Urban Meyer did make note of Hamilton’s athleticism in Monday’s press conference, so his role on the line will likely not be vastly different than that of Jones.
Davon Hamilton recruiting highlights
With a full, yet young, complement of defensive linemen finally at his disposal, Johnson is expected to liberally rotate against Tulsa, and ideally throughout the season. Other players that the coaching staff has mentioned being in the mix include freshmen Josh Alabi, Malik Barrow, and Robert Landers.
Whichever young linemen get time against Tulsa, they will need to make the most of their learning opportunity as the following week’s trip to Norman, Oklahoma will mark a dramatic rise in the level of competition, especially after the Sooners fight to regain ground in the playoff race, following an opening week loss to Houston.