clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘What if’ an elite pass rusher doesn’t emerge for the Buckeyes in 2022?

Under Larry Johnson Ohio State has their fair share of elite pass rushers, but the importance in developing one in 2022 is high.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the last decade, Ohio State has had a long list of elite pass rushers who have played under defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Heading into 2022, the Buckeyes have a list of former five-star recruits who may emerge as the next one on that list. For the Buckeyes heading into fall, there are high expectations for defensive improvement across the board.

After a few disappointing seasons in this department following the departure of Chase Young, the Buckeyes are once again looking for that game-breaker on the defensive line. When you look at Ohio State’s national championship win in 2014, the Buckeyes’ defensive front was led by the elite play of Joey Bosa. In 2019, Chase Young was a one-man defensive wrecking crew leading the Buckeyes’ defense all the way to the College Football Playoff, and along that journey were some pretty remarkable images of a defender being triple-teamed when he was rushing the passer.

Seeing what a player like Young brings to a defense – as well as Nick or Joey Bosa – really shows why national championships start up front. The impact a player of that caliber has on the rest of the defense is game-changing. Corners have more time to cover, linebackers have less pressure in the run game, and other defensive linemen have more one-on-one matchups allowing for them to attack.

This type of ability is not easily replicable, and landing three unicorns of pass rushers in a row raised expectations to possibly unattainable levels. Defining ‘elite’ is not easy, but getting close to those three would be a place to start. Now the question remains — what if an elite pass rusher doesn’t emerge for the Buckeyes in 2022?

Current Roster

Knowing the well-told history of the Bosa brothers and Young gives us an unfathomable reference point for the current Buckeyes on the roster to meet. Since Young’s departure, the Buckeyes have not had a player record double-digit sacks in a season. This is not good enough, and in the 2021 national championship against Alabama, the Buckeyes had no chance of slowing down that offense without an elite pass rusher.

Entering this season, Ohio State has Zach Harrison, who so far has not lived up to the five-star billing as a pass rusher. The now-departed Haskell Garrett as well as Taron Vincent and Tyliek Williams created pressure at times, but outside of some splash plays, there was not a lot of consistency. This takes us to the two five-star players in Jack Sawyer and J.T.Tuimolau in the 2022 class, which is probably the place to start.

Comparing Sawyer and Tuimoloau’s stats in their first season to Chase Young, Nick Bosa, and Joey Bosa’s allows us to look into this with a little bit of perspective. All five players were able to get significant game action as true freshmen, and the Young and the two Bosas all improved in year two.

First Year Pass Rusher Comparison

Player Tackles Year 1 TFL Year 1 Sacks Year 1 Tackles Year 2 TFL Year 2 Sack Year 2
Player Tackles Year 1 TFL Year 1 Sacks Year 1 Tackles Year 2 TFL Year 2 Sack Year 2
Joey Bosa 42 13.5 7.5 55 21.5 13.5
Nick Bosa 29 7 5 34 16 8.5
Chase Young 18 5 3.5 34 14.5 10.5
JT Tuimoloau 17 4.5 3.5 N/A N/A N/A
Jack Sawyer 11 3 3 N/A N/A N/A
Stats from

Now, looking at the table, Joey Bosa was a definitive outlier in year one. The most important aspect is the improvement from year one to year two with the three players featured. Tuimoloau and Sawyer were in the same ballpark as Young, which should give some excitement in regards to the potential on the Ohio State defensive line.

The main issue is this can’t be assumed when Zach Harrison also managed similar stats in his first season. At worst case, this group should make a solid pass rush by committee, but that has shown to not be enough to win a national title. If Sawyer and Tuimoloau do not take the needed next steps, this will put a ceiling on what this team can accomplish.

Ohio State’s Ceiling without an Elite Pass Rusher

The Buckeyes aren’t necessarily going to be reliant on an elite pure pass rusher in 2022 under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, but once again that lowers the ceiling of the entire team. Knowles is not scared to blitz his backers, run stunts and move players around to force mismatches to create pressure.

Looking at recent national champions, each team had an elite defensive player who was able to dominate the line of scrimmage and beyond. In 2019, LSU had K’Lavon Chaisson, 2020 Alabama had Christian Barmore, and 2021 Georgia had a long list of defensive show stoppers. In every case, the team with the better defensive line on gameday came away victorious. Now, the Buckeyes can get back to winning the Big Ten if they are able to pass rush by committee, but with what is expected on the offensive side, anything short of a national title would disappoint most fans.

Ohio State has three players who were all freshmen in Tyliek Williams, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Jack Sawyer who will be used in a variety of ways to create pass rush matchups. If one of these three can establish themselves as a game wrecker, the rest of the group should be talented enough to subsidize the rest.

For the Buckeyes to be legitimate national title contenders, developing the defensive line will be one of the main priorities to get that job done. If Ohio State is unable to develop an elite pass rusher, that will make it harder for the second level of the defense to excel. The Buckeyes have the potential to have an elite pass-rushing unit in 2022, but for Ohio State to get to where it wants to go, an elite pass rusher will be a necessity.

Seeing the impact Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young had on the defenses they played on should not be an expectation for fans entering every season. This is a level of play reserved for a select few players throughout college football history, but these are the types of players needed to win national championships. If the unit doesn’t take a step forward, the Buckeyes will be leaving something on the table.

Now if the defensive line does develop, expect one of the best defenses in the entire country. Knowles will have the freedom to call a defense that is aggressive and unpredictable. When talking about “What ifs” there has to be some possibility of them happening, and if the pass rush develops, the Ohio State defense can get to a national championship level again.