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Irrational Overreactions(?): Miyan Williams is a Heisman contender, Ohio State has no juice for lesser games

No, I am not a prisoner of the moment, why do you ask?

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

Ohio State fans live in the extremes, whether good or bad. As they say, we have no chill. So, I am going to give voice to those passionate opinions by running through my completely level-headed, not-at-all over-the-top, 100% unbiased takeaways from Saturday’s 49-10 win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Miyan Williams Has Wally Pipped TreVeyon Henderson to Become a Heisman Contender

I want to say this clearly upfront, I love TreVeyon Henderson. I think that he is an immensely talented running back, and I firmly believe that the Ohio State offense is better with him in it. However — as the old saying goes — in football, the greatest ability is availability, and unfortunately, Henderson hasn’t been especially available this season.

Fortunately, Miyan Williams has taken full advantage of his increased opportunities and has proven that he is nobody’s 1b option. Last week, I wrote that I believed that Williams was now Ohio State’s No. 1 running back, but I think that — after seeing his record-setting performance against Rutgers — it goes beyond that now.

When Henderson eventually returns to the lineup, I think that he is now clearly the 1b option out of the backfield; Williams has earned the right to be this team’s starter with his incredible performance and reliability through the first five games. While there are certainly things that Trey can do that Miyan can’t, the opposite is also true.

There is just something special — and sometimes silly — about how Porkchop runs the ball. While I am sure that there have been instances when he has been tackled for a loss, more times than not, if he is hit three yards behind the line of scrimmage, he powers through the contact to turn it into a five-yard gain.

If he is met three yards past the line of scrimmage, that usually means that he is going to pick up a first down; it just seems to be a near impossible task to stop the erstwhile Meatball on first contact. In fact, coming into the week, Williams led all Big Ten running backs in broken/forced misses talks per 20 carries.

But Henderson’s impact on the offense is bigger than just what he can do as a ball carrier. He gives the offense the sense of grit and toughness that Ryan Day and the coaching staff preached throughout the entire offseason. While C.J. Stroud is undoubtedly the conductor of the OSU offense, to me, Williams is the engine. His ability to consistently pick up yards, no matter how many guys defenses throw at him, opens up everything else that this unit wants to do. He keeps things chugging along, he keeps the momentum moving, he keeps the offense on task and on schedule.

In order to stop him from running roughshod through and around defenses, coordinators are forced to keep extra guys in the box, meaning that Stroud has cleaner looks at his incredible cadre of receivers; it also means that play-action is nearly impossible to stop against this team.

Against Rutgers, Stroud did not have his best game, in fact, it could be argued that it was his worst game as a Buckeye, but Williams welcomed the burden of leading the OSU offense and went for a career-high 189 yards and tied a program record with five touchdowns.

That is the type of guy you want to be your No. 1 running back, and — if he can keep it up — what you expect from a Heisman Trophy contender.

This Team Struggles to Get Up for Middling Games

On our pregame tailgate podcast this morning, I mentioned that I was a little concerned that the Buckeyes might not be as jacked up for this game as they had been against Wisconsin last week, and that it could have a negative impact on their performance.

This has been a consistent issue for the Buckeyes in recent years; they get fired up for the bigger games but play down to the level of the competition when facing the also-rans on their schedule. Normally, this just results in Ohio State looking sluggish and sloppy, but still winning by four touchdowns.

However — as Purdue and Iowa have proven in years past — sometimes it can lead to upsets at the most inopportune of times for the Buckeyes. Obviously not being ready to compete at your highest level can lead to a team getting upset, but it has other ramifications as well; not the least of which is messing with the fans’ mental well-being while watching the game.

There are the style points that can be lost in the polls, and more importantly in the eventual College Football Playoff rankings, but more importantly, football is a game of momentum. Getting an underwhelming win (define that however you would like) against a second or third-tier opponent doesn’t set a team with title aspirations up to ride the wave of success that you would want to have against an over-matched opponent. Instead, teams need to spend time during the week cleaning up issues that they should be beyond.

Then of course there are the more statistical impacts; the longer a game is unnecessarily close, the longer the starters have to play; robbing the backups of opportunities to get valuable game reps. Of course, when your starters aren’t clicking on all cylinders, that also prevents them from putting up numbers to keep them at the forefront of the postseason honors conversations.

I still think that Stroud is the Heisman Trophy front runner — even after going just 13 of 22 for 154 yards — but he clearly didn’t have his best stuff this afternoon, and that could hurt him; like Justin Field’s lackluster game against Indiana in 2019 did to his Heisman hopes.

Ultimately, college football is all about wins. In a sport where only one team can end the season undefeated (and even that is not a guarantee), the cliche of “survive and advance” is absolutely real. However, winning quickly and comfortably has major benefits for the team, players, and fans.

This Defense Is a Top-10 Defense

Jim Knowles’ unit might not be there yet in terms of raw statistics (we will see if they move up after all of the Week 5 games come to an end), and they might not be there via the eye test at this point in the season, but when healthy, I really think that the Ohio State defense is a top-10 unit in the country.

Coming into the weekend, the Buckeyes ranked 18th in yards allowed per game at 283 and 21st in points allowed per contest at 16. And while they have yet to play anyone even approaching a competent offense, the improvements through five games have been obvious and extremely welcomed.

The way that this team has responded at all three levels to the introduction of Knowles’ defense has been staggering. The linebackers and safeties have been especially impressive as both groups were average at best in 2021, but are now excellent in 2022. The aggression, creativity, and just basic competence have been the balm to heal this Buckeye fan’s jaded soul after watching timid, underprepared defenses the last two years.

However, as every Ohio State fan knows, the team has yet to be at full strength, and that fact has had an outsized impact on the defensive side of the ball. While missing Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson is a big deal for the Buckeyes, that side of the ball has ample talent to fill in the gaps.

However, the defense has been hit especially hard at the position that it could least afford to lose players; cornerback. They came into the season with only six scholarship corners and the top three got hurt during camp. Jordan Hancock has yet to play this season, while Cameron Brown missed another game this week, and Denzel Burke missed the Wisconsin game and hasn’t looked particularly good when he has been in.

Getting healthy versions of Brown and Hancock would be marked improvements for the OSU secondary, as the corners have been the most glaring weakness of the entire team. Of course, it’s not just at corner, the Buckeye defense has also seen key players including Mike Hall, Lathan Ransom, Tanner McCalister deal with injuries throughout the season.

While no football team is ever going to be fully healthy, especially as the season progresses, I do think that Ohio State’s conservatism when it comes to playing guys who are less than 100% could pay huge dividends when they get into the much more challenging second half of the slate.

If the Buckeyes do get all of their guys back at something approaching full strength, I think that what we’ve seen so far this season has given me more than enough confidence in this unit to think that they could end the season as a top-10 defense, whatever your preferred metric might be.