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Ohio State’s “Rushmen” look to find their next crop of stars in 2018

The Buckeyes will have to replace five key players on the defensive line from last year, but Ohio State has plenty of talent ready to step up.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“While there are a bunch of returning players from the defensive line rotation that return for Larry Johnson in 2018, there is no doubt that the upcoming season marks the beginning of the new era for the group that the coach calls the “Rushmen”.”

Alex Gleitman, Bucknuts

All Ohio State has to do in the 2018 season is find a way to replace 207 games played, 368 tackles, 88.5 tackles for loss, and 47.5 sacks on the defensive line. Gone from the Buckeyes defensive line are Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Tracy Sprinkle, and Michael Hill, but if there is any defensive line coach in the country who can minimize those losses, it is Ohio State’s Larry Johnson.

Two established names who will be able to offset some of the lost production are juniors Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones, who have combined for 135 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, and 14.5 sacks in 52 games. Robert Landers and DaVon Hamilton have show glimpses of being able to make plays in limited time on the field at defensive tackle, but they’ll need to be more consistent with their play as they see more snaps this season.

The most intriguing Buckeye prospects who could make a big name for themselves at defensive end this year are Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper. During his freshman campaign, Young got better as the year went on, and looks like he should be able to live up to the hype of being one of the most sought-after defensive end recruits in the country. Cooper hasn’t had many opportunities to show his skills yet, but the coaching staff knows the talent is there.

With a number of other underclassmen to go along with the defensive linemen already mentioned, Ohio State has plenty of talent to try and replace what the Buckeyes lost, but there will likely be a few growing pains early on with this new group of “Rushmen”, as players settle into their expanded roles. Luckily the defensive linemen have coach Larry Johnson to lead them and prepare them for what lies ahead.

Ohio State was one of just two teams with two running backs in the Top 15 of Athlon Sports’ Top 50 running backs for the 2018, with the other being defending national champion Alabama. Athlon Sports ranked Stanford’s Bryce Love, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, and Boston College’s AJ Dillon in the first three spots before Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins entered the list at number four.

Dobbins burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2017, rushing for 181 yards in the season opener against Indiana after Mike Weber was sidelined due to injury. The running back from Texas didn’t slow down as the year progressed, finishing with 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns. Dobbins saved a couple of his best performances for Ohio State’s biggest games of the season, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown in the win over Michigan, followed by 174 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.

Speaking of Weber, the junior running back was slotted in the 14th spot in the Athlon Sports list after a 2017 season that was slowed by injury early on. There were high expectations for Weber heading into his sophomore season after rushing for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016, but Weber saw just seven carries in the first four games as he dealt with injury. Even though he saw just 96 carries in 2017, Weber was still able to crack 600 yards on the ground, and showed some big play ability in November, rushing for 270 yards on 20 carries against Michigan State and Illinois.

With Ohio State likely to see less running from their quarterback this season, there should be plenty of carries for both Dobbins and Weber this year, which should make them one of the most dangerous running back duos in the country. The Buckeyes will likely lean on Dobbins and Weber early on in the season as they ease Dwayne Haskins into the starting quarterback role.

“This is such a tremendous honor for Lilli and our entire program. Day n and day out, she competes and impacts the game in so many ways. It’s so much more than her clutch offensive moments and defensive gems. She absolutely loves the game of softball and that passion impacts our team as much as her stellar skills. We are extremely proud she is representing our program as an All-American.”

Ohio State softball head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly via Ohio State Athletics

On Wednesday, junior shortstop Lilli Piper earned second team All-American honors, becoming the 12th All-American in program history. This isn’t Piper’s first time being named an All-American though, as she was named to the third team in 2017. Piper became the first Buckeye to be named a second team All-American since 2009, when Sam Marder earned second team honors.

After crushing 18 home runs and recording 53 RBIs in 2017, Piper upped her game in 2018 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs this year. The 20 home runs were best in the Big Ten, along with Piper’s .876 slugging percentage and 141 total bases. Piper’s numbers this year were even more impressive considering opposing pitchers were more careful with her this year, as evidenced by the 20 more walks Piper recorded in 2018 than she did in 2017.

Behind the impressive play of Piper, Ohio State posted their highest win total since 2010, winning 36 games. The Buckeyes earned their third straight NCAA Tournament at-large bid and was able to make it to the Gainesville Regional Final before falling to Florida. With another year of eligibility left, Piper still has some time to add to her legacy, and hopefully be able to push the Buckeyes even farther in the NCAA Softball Tournament in 2019.