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You’re Nuts: Who has come out of nowhere and exceeded expectations most for Ohio State thus far?

Which under-the-radar guys have had the best performances for the Buckeyes through three games.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-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 has come out of nowhere and exceeded expectations most for Ohio State thus far?

Josh’s Take

Coming into the 2022 football season, Ohio State fans knew a couple of things: Jim Knowles’ defense was going to look different, C.J. Stroud would be fine without Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and Ryan Day looks more intimidating with a beard. We were also reasonably confident in the talent at running back, the depth at wide receiver, and the fact that experience would only benefit OSU’s defensive front seven.

But we also had questions. Will the offensive line block better? Is a different defense a better defense? And which of the “other guys” will step up? The others being under-the-radar players who had yet to make a huge impact in Columbus.

I think Gene and I could bring up any number of players here, and make a solid case that this guy or that guy has been a breakout star. Star might be stretch, but a number of players have exceeded expectations for the Buckeyes through three games. And for a team that was top-heavy with star power last year, it has been great to see others elevate their games. Ohio State will need more of them to do so as the team begins Big Ten play.

Since I still want to see a few more sacks, turnovers, and/or big plays from the defense, my thoughts regarding an under-the-radar player shifted to the offensive side of the ball. I really wanted to go with the O-line, because I think they have been great, but it is hard to sit here and explain just how well I think Paris Johnson Jr. has played. It is more about the eye test with him. Miyan Williams was a thought, but my podcast co-host has already drilled it into me just how important Chop was last year — and will continue to be in 2022. It took me a second, but I finally figured out my under-the-radar breakout. And honestly, we all should have seen it coming. Cade Stover, come on down!

Stover was an unselfish role player in 2021, earning the respect of coaches and teammates. The guy was clearly a linebacker in a tight end’s body, but he played the role he was asked to play. He took a distant back seat to Jeremy Ruckert – which in the OSU offense, means he was many rows back – and finished the season with a measly five reception for 76 yards. Then, when called upon in the Rose Bowl, he flipped back to the other side of the ball and gave an admirable performance as a LB. I thought it may have even earned him playing time at that position moving forward, but instead Stover stuck at TE — essentially by default.

That is because the Buckeyes lacked serious depth at TE coming into the 2022 season. And they still do, although Gee Scott Jr.’s emergence makes me feel a little better. With no experienced options, it became very apparent that the team would be leaning quite heavily on Stover, despite his limited track record. I knew the physicality to become a solid blocker was there, but I was not so sure about his role and ability as a pass catcher. That is no knock against Ohio’s former Mr. Football, but he was never supposed to be a TE! Even when he played offense in high school, he toted the ball as a RB. Stover became the backup to Jeremy Ruckert by some cruel twist of fate, and honestly, did not look incredibly happy to be there at times. But now he has proven to be a valuable offensive commodity, while far exceeding (most) expectations.

Through three games, the fourth-year TE (getting rid of any hybrid player language) is absolutely balling out. By recent OSU standards, at least. Stover has eight catches for 137 yards, good for 17.1 yards per catch. More impressively, my man has shown off some baby-soft hands! He has been floated a few wheel routes in space, and reeled in tricky throws over his shoulder. This past weekend against Toledo, “Gronk” Stover made a beautiful fingertip grab on the sideline. His ability to catch the ball has blown me away perhaps more than anything else I have seen from the Buckeyes this season, and I only hope his outstanding play continues.

Stover will likely find himself as a fifth, sixth, or seventh option if/when Ohio State’s offense gets healthy, but we now know how dangerous he can be in any role. And I don’t think it even matters to him; he just wants to contribute and be a leader. This guy is the consummate teammate, and if the pass-catching volume drops, he will be working his tail off in the run game.

I always liked Stover as a football player, but I really believed the OSU coaches made a mistake by moving him to offense. And while I still think I am right about that last part, I am ready to admit that perhaps the coaches knew he could excel in more than one role. He has definitely done so at TE, and I look forward to watching Stover continue to play at a high level for the rest of the season.

Gene’s Take

I think Josh did a good job of hammering down the nitty gritty here for the type of player we were looking for in this edition of ‘You’re Nuts.’ It doesn't have to be someone who has become a true star for this Ohio State team — at least yet — but a player that didn't get a ton of preseason hype and is now solidifying themself as an important contributor for the 2022 Buckeyes.

As my podcast co-host detailed, there are a number of options to choose from, which is certainly a good thing if you’re an Ohio State fan. We expected both Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka to show out in the absence of Olave and Wilson, and while they have both even exceeded those lofty expectations so far, it’s tough to call those guys “under-the-radar.” On defense, I gave heavy consideration to Mike Hall Jr., who has come out of nowhere to become one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players through his two games played (he didn’t take the field against Toledo). Instead, I'm going with a member of the secondary.

The guy I want to highlight here is Lathan Ransom. We had seen small glimpses of potential from Ransom in 2021, but on a defense that struggled mightily it was hard to really separate him from the pack. He then suffered a brutal leg injury during the Rose Bowl against Utah, and watching him get carted off the field in Pasadena, it was hard to have high expectations for Ransom heading into 2022. I wasn’t even sure he would be ready for the beginning of this season, with Josh Proctor’s similar leg injury taking almost over a full year to heal.

In addition to his injury in the last game of last year, Ransom also appeared to be behind on the depth chart in the new Jim Knowles defense. The unit would have three safeties on the field, but that trio of starting spots looked to be locked up by Proctor, Ronnie Hickman and transfer Tanner McAlister, who followed Knowles to Columbus from Oklahoma State. It seemed as though almost all of the odds were stacked against Ransom as the new campaign got underway. Then, Josh Proctor missed a crucial tackle in Week 1 against Notre Dame, and since then Ransom has stood out to me as one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players.

Immediately after that missed tackle, Proctor was subbed out for Ransom, who would play the remainder of the game as one of Ohio State’s top of the line safeties. Fast forward to today, and Ransom now sits as the second-leading tackler on the team behind Tommy Eichenberg, despite not even fully earning the starting job just yet. He played the rest of that game against the Irish, played behind Proctor in Week 2 against Toledo, and got the starting nod in Week 3 with Proctor out with an injury. In that time, Ransom has accounted for 17 total tackles — 10 of which are solo — and a tackle for loss.

The numbers, while very good, dont even tell the true story of how important Ransom has been for Ohio State’s defense. You need your safeties to be willing and competent tacklers, and Ransom has been all that and then some. Whether it be up near the line of scrimmage or out near the boundary, Ransom has seemingly made every tackle he has been tasked with making, and has been a true eraser on the back end of the Buckeyes’ defense much like Jordan Fuller was a few years back. He isn’t a ball-hawk or a guy who is going to force a ton of turnovers, but he plays smart football and does everything that is asked of him, which is exactly what you need from the safety spot.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ransom earns a real starting spot as the season progresses. Proctor may have a higher upside, but he is too boom or bust for my liking. I wan’t consistency and a sure thing from my safety spots, and Ransom provides all that and then some. The coaching staff has talked about just how hard he worked this offseason coming off that injury in order to get back on the field, and that hard work is clearly paying off as he has showed out for Ohio State through the team’s first few games.