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You’re Nuts: Who will lead Ohio State in sacks against Oregon?

The Buckeyes’ pass rush will need to be better against the Ducks.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Who will lead Ohio State in sacks against Oregon?

Josh’s take: Zach Harrison

Based on what we saw against Minnesota, Ohio State’s pass rush is not yet the dangerous weapon we predicted it would be (and will be, eventually). Granted, Minnesota’s offensive line was a hell of a first test. They are experienced, enormous, and elite… alliteration, folks. With Chris Autman-Bell out for the game, I thought we would see more press coverage from the Buckeye DB’s in an effort to give the defensive line and linebackers more time to get home. However, the Golden Gophers relied heavily on the run, and got rid of the ball quickly in passing situations.

Ohio State did get home twice against Minnesota, and DE Zach Harrison’s third quarter strip-sack changed the momentum of the game completely. Linebacker Cody Simon also had a well-time blitzed earlier in the game, but outside of those two instances, pressure was hard to come by. The OSU coaching staff rotated early and often (sore subject), and although it was probably needed for the opener, the line(up) needs to be consistent — and play better overall moving forward.

The d-line specifically underwhelmed against Minnesota, and I believe the Buckeyes could be in trouble if we see a repeat performance against Oregon. Anthony Brown is a very mobile quarterback, and if he is not pressured, he will make OSU pay if/when plays break down. Ohio State needs to try and get him in uncomfortable situations, but also remain disciplined while doing so. If guys go out there and lose containment or fall prey to the Ducks’ misdirection, it could be frustrating afternoon in The Shoe.

Oregon will likely take a similar approach to that of Minnesota, but their run game will be supplemented by the quarterback. Tanner Morgan posed little-to-no threat with his legs, whereas Oregon’s Anthony Brown depends on his to be effective. Brown had 16 of the Ducks’ 49 carries on Saturday, and was productive enough with those carries to make him a legitimate threat. He will keep the OSU defense honest with his legs.

The Buckeye will also need to take into account Oregon’s team speed. If the Buckeyes completely sell out in an effort to rush the QB, the Ducks can dump it off quickly to the two running backs they rotate frequently, or work the quick-screen game with their speedy wideouts. So as much as I want to make this about the pass rush, I think scheme and discipline are of equal or greater importance. Ohio State’s defense has to keep Anthony Brown in front of them.

For that reason, I predict that Ohio State’s most effective rush will need to come from the defensive line. I don’t think the Buckeyes can afford to come at Brown (often) with only two levels of defense. I am no coach, but in my humble opinion, it would be asking for trouble to blitz frequently, potentially giving the Oregon QB copious amount of open space if he gets past the line of scrimmage. I would rather see Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon gang-tackling Brown for short yardage, instead of one of them being put in a head-to-head situation with the mobile QB outside of the pocket. Let the incredibly talented defensive line do what they are expected to do, and give us the Rushmen Package!

I think Zach Harrison is due for another strong performance against Oregon. His strip-sack, along with the Haskell Garret scoop and score, changed the dynamic of the Minnesota game. It seemed to give Ohio State an increased level of confidence to put the game away. The Buckeyes are counting on him to take that next step, and through one game, his development seems to be trending in the right direction.

Harrison was the only defensive lineman I really noticed making an impact on Thursday night. He earned a 90.0 grade from PFF, and seemed to the only one capable of creating pressure. A ton of credit should be given to Minnesota’s offensive line, but Ohio State surely expected more from what is expected to be the strength of their defense. Garrett appeared to be on a pitch count, and the other DT’s combined for eight total tackles, but we didn’t see much else from the front four. If it is going to take time for that unit to get up to speed, Harrison will be counted on to get after the opposing quarterback.

His third quarter rush towards Tanner Morgan was a thing of beauty. More importantly, he was not content with just taking the QB down. Harrison smoked Minnesota’s left tackle off the line, and had a beautiful bend to get around him. His jump off the ball was perfectly timed, but the body bend to lower his pads and get around the edge was equally important. His hand usage to swipe at the arms of the OL was almost inconsequential because he got home so quickly. Once Morgan was in-reach, Harrison attacked his throwing arm perfectly and knocked the ball lose. It was a complete play.

I expect Harrison to be a complete player this season, and I believe we will see plenty of plays similar to the one he made Thursday. Not only do I think he gets to the QB against Oregon, I think he does so more than once. My prediction is 1.5 or more sacks. Harrison came to Ohio State as one of the most highly-touted local prospects in recent memory, and it has been a tough ask for him to find his footing. That awkward transition to legitimate pass-rushing threat is now over. Expect a big game against the Ducks, and a handful more after that.

Gene’s Take: Jack Sawyer

Josh did a really good job breaking down pretty much everything there is to say about Ohio State’s defensive line performance from the season opener. It is tough to get a true gauge for just how good the pass rush could be when Minnesota’s offensive gameplan was centered around the run game and very quick short passes. In addition, like Josh alluded to, Garrett seemed to be on a pitch count and did not play quite as much as he typically did last season. Also, it was clear that Ohio State was using defensive linemen it knew were better at stopping the run rather than rushing the QB, which made sense going up against Mohamed Ibrahim.

I think that is the reason why we saw J.T. Tuimoloau much earlier than we saw Jack Sawyer, as the pair of five-star freshmen both got their feet wet in the season opener on a few snaps but didn’t really get a chance to make much of an impact with the way the game played out. Tuimoloau is listed at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, making him just slightly smaller than a defensive tackle but with incredible athleticism for his size that makes him adept at rushing off the edge. His size also likely makes him a superior run-stopper than Jack Sawyer, who is no slouch himself at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, but it makes sense that the gameplan called for more Tuimoloau than Sawyer in that game.

That being said, I think we will see a much more balanced attack from the Oregon offense, who struggled a bit against Fresno State in its first game of the season. Of the Ducks’ 358 total yards, 172 of them came through the air while 186 of them came on the ground. Anthony Brown through the ball 24 times, while Oregon’s running back tandem of CJ Verdell and Travis Dye toted the rock 31 times (Brown himself recorded 16 rush attempts, although three of those were sacks). Mario Cristobal’s offense is a much more prototypical college offense than that of the Gophers, and so Ohio State should be able to actually attempt to make plays in the passing game this week.

As Josh also discussed, Brown is a much more mobile QB than Tanner Morgan, and so that throws an added wrinkle into this equation. However, with the Buckeyes not needed to sell out to stop the run this weekend, I think we will actually get to see the fabled Rushmen Package from Larry Johnson on Saturday, and that means we will probably get to see a lot more of Sawyer — especially on third down and other obvious passing situations. Ohio State will hopefully also get Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown back in the secondary, which should hopefully provide a little better coverage and allow for extra time for the defensive line to get to the QB.

There is no reason based on game one to think that Jack Sawyer will lead this team in sacks against Oregon, but I'm going with my gut. The Ducks allowed just under 300 passing yards to Fresno State this past weekend, and that kind of defensive effort against CJ Stroud and this passing offense could make for a long day. If Ohio State is able to get on top early and force Brown to throw the ball, it will give them a much better chance to pick up a few sacks this week. If the defensive ends are rotating like they should be and Sawyer gets more than a handful of snaps, I think he is the guy to look out for this weekend.

At the end of the day, I’m really hoping to see an improved pass rush overall, so I'll be excited if any of these talented guys along that d-line are able to get home on Saturday.