This week, Land-Grant Holy Land writers will be comparing current facets of Ohio State teams and comparing them to those of the past: Comparing THIS year’s Buckeyes to those of THAT other time. Welcome to LGHL’s “This or That.”
This and that
How many Mississippians does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer, for all of you who haven’t spent much time in the great state, is “Seven: one to change the bulb, the other six to sit around and moan about how it will never live up to the standard of the old one.”
While it’s common knowledge that it’s a good idea to start off with a joke, there really is a point to the one above. If things are going well, we get spoiled. We get accustomed to quality, to success, and our expectations rise. Such is the case with Ohio State defensive ends, or edge rushers. Today, I’m going to flip the terms and start with “that” to be followed by “this.”
Buckeye edge rushers of the 2010s
I’ll begin with 2013. Joey Bosa arrived in Columbus and played in 11 of the Buckeyes’ 14 games that season. Joey was a heralded high school star from Ft. Lauderdale. He was 6-foot-4, 260 pounds when he was being recruited. 247Sports rated him four-star and calculated his composite ranking as 27th nationally overall and fourth in his position.
Expectations were high for the elder Bosa, and he burst onto the scene as a freshman. For the season, he recorded 42 total tackles on 27 solos and 15 assists. More significantly, however, was the way that he played in the opponents’ backfield. 16 of his tackles (nearly a third of them) were behind the line of scrimmage, for a loss. Seven and a half of them were sacks. Joey also returned a recovered fumble for a defensive touchdown. A freshman, and already a genuine force to be reckoned with.
Bosa only got better. In the national championship season of 2014, Joey increased his total tackles to 55, with 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. As we’ll see when we take a look at Buckeye stats for 2020 and 2021, these are phenomenal numbers. Additionally, Bosa forced four fumbles and recovered one of them. His second year on the team, and he was a monster, shutting down offenses totally.
In Bosa’s final year as a Buckeye, 2015, his numbers ebbed a bit: 51 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Declaring for the NFL Draft after three years playing at OSU, Bosa was drafted in the first round, third overall pick, by the San Diego Chargers and has had, as we know, an outstanding pro career. Buckeye fans were starting to expect excellence at the edge.
Joey Bosa’s Buckeye career didn’t overlap with that of his younger brother, Nick, but Nick arrived in 2016 so there wasn’t any gap between Bosas at Ohio Stadium. Because of Joey’s play, Nick was expected by everyone to be more of the same. In fact, Nick was even more highly touted. 247Sports gave Nick five stars and put his composite score at No. 8 nationally and No. 1 at the defensive end position.
Nick Bosa played in all but one of Ohio State’s 2016 games and racked up 29 total tackles, seven of them for a loss. Though he picked up five sacks, I remember being a little disappointed; he didn’t seem as good as his brother. The old timers were beginning to moan that he wouldn’t meet the standards set by Joey.
During the Bucks’ 12-2 2017 season, Nick Bosa upped his numbers. Of his 34 tackles, 16 (nearly half of them) were for a loss; he had 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble. No doubt, Nick was helped out by having the freshman Chase Young often occupying the end position on the other side.
We remember the core injury that Nick suffered in 2018. His year cut short, Bosa played in only three of the 14 games. But he made 14 tackles, including six for a loss and four sacks. He also had a forced fumble. Like his brother before him, Nick Bosa was drafted quickly into the NFL, taken by the 49ers with the second overall pick in 2019. Nick went on to win the Rookie of the Year award his first year as a pro.
Chase Young did overlap for two years with Nick Bosa. In his freshman season (2017), Young got 18 tackles, five for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. He was overshadowed by Bosa’s season and, again, produced some gripes from OSU fans that he had been over-hyped. Indeed, Young was something coming out of his Hyattsville, Maryland, high school. The five-star recruit was the No. 7 overall player in the 2017 class.
When Bosa got hurt in 2018, Young got going and became the player that we all expected him to be. Double figures in both TFL and sacks with 14.5 and 10.5, respectively. And he was tough on the run, seeming always to be there on crucial plays.
2019 was an even more glorious season for Chase Young. The most amazing stat that year – and one of the most astonishing figures that I’ve seen in football – is his seven forced fumbles. Young made stripping the ball an art. He accumulated 21 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks in the 12 games that he played. Obvious passing situations presented a doomsday for Buckeye foes, as they couldn’t keep Young away from their quarterback.
Chase Young continued that Ohio State edge rusher legacy and was chosen as the No. 2 overall pick by Washington. Like the Bosas, Young has starred in the NFL.
Buckeye edge rusher this year: Zach Harrison
Just up the road from Columbus in Lewis Center, Ohio, Zach Harrison played his high school ball. At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, Harrison was about the same size as Young and the Bosas. And he was as highly regarded by the recruiting analysts. 247Sports computed the five-star recruit to be the 12th best player overall in his 2019 class and the second-best defensive end. After Joey, Nick, and Chase, it should go without saying that we expected a great deal from Harrison. It should also go without saying that this bulb hasn’t yet shone as brightly as the previous ones.
While Chase Young was forcing seven fumbles in his final Buckeye season, Harrison was beginning his career in Columbus. He played in 10 of the 14 games and recorded 24 total tackles, 5.5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks. Pretty good numbers. He looked able to fill the shoes of his predecessors and continue the legacy.
2020, as we recall, was a screwy year. Although the Buckeyes made it to the national championship game, they played only eight games for the season. Harrison played in seven of them and recorded 14 tackles. He also had 4.5 TFL and two sacks. Not dominant, by any means, but, hey, it was COVID.
2021, Harrison’s third season, was to be his breakout. He’d get the big numbers, shut down opposing offenses and turn pro, like Bosa, Bosa, Young. Didn’t happen. I’ll say it bluntly: Zach Harrison, in 2021, didn’t cut it. He played in 10 of the 13 games and had 25 tackles, six TFL, and two sacks. Two.
Harrison (wisely, I think) chose to forego the draft and return this year. He’s back. He’ll play on one end of the defensive line and will have great support since J.T. Tuimoloau should start on the other end. Offenses can’t double team both of them.
Harrison – and the entire defense – needs to improve radically this year. We look at the gaudy numbers of years past, and then we look at the defensive stats for 2021. Haskell Garrett led the team with seven TFL and 5.5 sacks. Tyleik Williams, in very limited playing time, was second with 6.5 and five. That’s why Ohio State was so bad in pass defense. Quarterbacks had all day, and the Buckeye secondary was largely inexperienced.
If “this” is going to look anything like “that,” Zach Harrison has to live up to his billing and show us that he’s worthy of playing that celebrated edge rusher position. If he doesn’t, look for Jack Sawyer to take his place rather quickly. It’s Harrison’s moment to be a star – or a bust.