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You’re Nuts: Which Ohio State player is primed for a second-half breakout?

The Buckeyes are full of stars, but who else could put on a show the rest of the way.

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

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: Which Ohio State player is primed for a second-half breakout?

Josh’s Take

The Ohio State Buckeyes have seen a number of players step up through six games this season, all doing so in different ways and to varying degrees. Guys like Miyan Williams and Tommy Eichenberg have elevated their respective games, reaching a new (star) level of play. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka quickly proved that the Rose Bowl was no fluke, as they are following in the footsteps of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Cade Stover has surprised us all by transforming into Baby Gronk, and Jakailin Johnson is holding his own at cornerback while learning on the fly.

Any and all of these guys, in addition to many others, deserve recognition for a job well done. But given what we have seen with injuries – and what we have not seen from OSU’s opponents – something tells Gene and I that the Buckeyes will need other, additional players to step up during the second half of the season. Selfish of us to ask, we know. So who will make a name for himself down the stretch?

The player whose name immediately comes to mind for me is J.T. Tuimoloau, but not because he has underperformed thus far. In fact, I think he has played pretty well given the circumstances. However, if one were to only look at the stats, that person might think this former mega-recruit is only seeing action in mop-up duty. Because through six games, Tuimoloau has just seven tackles and zero sacks. I would tell you that he has been much more impactful than the numbers want you to believe, but at some point, the productivity needs to show itself. And I think that it will, sooner rather than later.

Although Tuimoloau’s stats are nothing to write home about, his presence is absolutely being felt on the field. If nothing else, he is freeing up others to make plays. This past weekend against Michigan State, the super soph was held (egregiously so) on at least two plays which ended up as Michael Hall Jr. sacks. And it was far from the first time. Called or not, Tuimoloau has to be near the top of college football in times held per pass rush. Clearly not a measurable stat, but go with me here. The big defensive end is constantly being pulled, grabbed, or damn-near put in a sleeper hold, yet officials seem to be blind to the blatant cheating! While frustrating for the individual, others have been able to take advantage of their individual matchups as a result.

Another thing working against Tuimoloau is the fact that opposing quarterbacks have been getting rid of the ball quickly while facing the Buckeyes. They are fearful of OSU’s total pass rush, and unwilling to commit to deep drops. That trend could certainly continue, but when the team eventually encounters a QB with a pulse, I think those guys will look to extend and make plays. If and when players are spending more time in the pocket, Tuimoloau should then be able to make good on a few of his pursuits. I firmly believe it is just a matter of time before the sacks come in bunches — for this entire defensive front.

As well as the revamped Ohio State defense has played thus far, they will need to step it up further against the best the Big Ten has to offer. Penn State is a top-10 team. Maryland has a legit offense. TTUN appears to be legit, and even the game against Iowa should pose a threat to Jim Knowles’ unit... HAHAHA, sorry, I had to. But in all reality, the Buckeyes simply cannot rely on the opposition’s offensive ineptitude for 12 straight games (hopefully 14). There will come a time when they need to get after an effective QB, and change the course of a game. I believe Tuimoloau can help lead that charge.

Gene’s Take

Josh is right. Ohio State has had a number of players step up big already so far this season, and as a whole they have put together about as good a first half as you could ask. The team has been banged up in different areas basically every single week, but the Buckeyes still sit at 6-0, and are one of the few teams in the country that have looked impressive throughout — maybe the first half against Notre Dame notwithstanding. As far as the other big contenders go, Alabama has struggled against the likes of Texas and Texas A&M, while Georgia narrowly avoided an upset against Mizzou a week ago.

So, Ohio State is just fine, as is evidenced by its unbeaten record and its new position at No. 2 in the latest AP Top 25. But that doesn’t mean a great team can’t get any better, and there are a number of positions we are still waiting for someone to break out at. It would be tough to ask for much more on offense, as C.J. Stroud, the RB duo of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, the crop of wide receivers (even without JSN) and a stout offensive line have performed about as well as possible. The defense has been good too, but there is definitely more room for improvement there.

Surprisingly enough after what we’ve seen the last few seasons, linebacker has actually been the strength of this year’s Buckeye defense. It makes sense given coordinator Jim Knowles’ history at the position, but both Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have been phenomenal in the middle. As Josh already alluded to, the defensive line could use some work, and sure we would love a true breakout performance from either Tuimoloau or Jack Sawyer, but Mike Hall gives me enough juice up front for me to be content. The safeties have been great as well, so I turn my attention to cornerback.

The struggles for Ohio State at corner have not been exposed just yet, but the guys that have been on the field have not performed well when tested. It has been strange to watch through the first half of the year, as guys like Denzel Burke and Cam Brown have been in position more often than not, but seem to have no idea how to play the ball in the air once it comes their way. Unlike my podcast co-host, I am looking to a guy who has not yet played this season to stem the tide and break out at cornerback in the second half: Jordan Hancock.

A four-star recruit in the 2021 class, Hancock came to Ohio State as the No. 5 cornerback in his cycle and the No. 73 player overall. Thus far this season, he has not yet seen the field after what seemed to be a minor preseason injury has lingered. This past week, Ryan Day said Hancock would be held out of game action once more, but that he was back to full speed in practice. I’m expecting to see Jordan Hancock on the field once Ohio State returns from its open week to take on Iowa, and I think he has a chance to shoot up the depth chart at a position group full of injury and underperformance. It’s tough to pick a guy who hasn’t played a meaningful snap in scarlet and gray just yet, but Hancock is my hope to break out in the second half.