A year ago at this time, Ohio State was a couple days removed from an underwhelming 42-20 win over Tulsa. C.J. Stroud was 15 of 25 for 185 yards against the Golden Hurricanes, throwing a touchdown and an interception. While there was knowledge that Stroud was nursing a shoulder injury, there was some Ohio State fans that were calling for Stroud to be benched in favor of Kyle McCord, Jack Miller, or Quinn Ewers.
Those Buckeye fans got their wish in a way, as Stroud sat out the next game against Akron, which allowed his injured shoulder time to heal. McCord was solid in the easy 59-7 win over the Zips, throwing for 319 yards and a couple touchdowns. Stroud would return the next week against Rutgers and threw five touchdowns in a 52-13 win over Rutgers. The quarterback from California would go on to throw 36 touchdowns and only three interceptions after missing the Akron game.
The difference between what we saw from Stroud in the first three games of last season compared to the first three games of this season is night and day. The Heisman Trophy candidate isn’t the only Buckeye whose play has been transformed over the last year. Looking at both sides of the football, there are a number of Ohio State players that look completely different on the field from what we were seeing from them at this time last season.
Today’s question: What Ohio State player has grown the most on the football field over the last year?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Tommy Eichenberg
At first when I saw Tommy Eichenberg play, I just assumed he would be another Tuf Borland. A serviceable linebacker who would make plenty of stops against lesser competition, but who would look like he was running in quicksand against top teams around the country. Thankfully it wasn’t the first time I was wrong, and likely won’t be the last time I am wrong.
Eichenberg started the 2021 season with a fumble recovery against Minnesota and nine total tackles in the first two games of the year, then the linebacker got lost in the shuffle a little bit, recording just four stops over the next three games. Even though tackles aren’t everything when it comes to linebackers, it was obvious that Eichenberg was still trying to find his way in a unit that was lost as a whole.
As last season went on, it looked like things were starting to click for Eichenberg. In games, you would see the linebacker around the football more, making stops. The 2021 was capped off on the first day of 2022, when Eichenberg set a Rose Bowl record with 17 tackles, with 11 of those stops being solo tackles. The performance, along with the work he put in during the offseason, resulted in the Cleveland native being named a team captain this year.
Just to prove the Rose Bowl performance wasn’t a fluke, Eichenberg came out of the gates fast this season, earning Bronco Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week honors following the Notre Dame game, where he was credited with nine tackles and notched two sacks. Even though Ohio State is still adjusting to Jim Knowles’ defense, Eichenberg is the right man to be one of the leaders on that side of the football for Ohio State.
Meredith’s answer: Emeka Egbuka
When it comes to the player who has achieved the most growth since last season, Emeka Egbuka comes to mind on the offensive side. While he was an electric returner last season, he was very much on the back burner of the receiver rotation behind the veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson as well as last year’s rising star, Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
In 2021, Egbuka had nine catches for 191 yards—none of which went for scores. Moreover, Egbuka appeared in just four games as a receiver. Once again, it wasn’t as though he was needed given the other talent on the field at the time.
We naturally expected that Egbuka, who came to Ohio State as the top receiver recruit in his class, would eventually break out into the next big wideout for the Buckeyes. That change happened quicker than expected this year with JSN and Julian Fleming missing the first two games due to injury.
Already this season, Egbuka has amassed 20 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns, which is good for second on the team behind Marvin Harrison Jr. He has worked himself into Stroud’s rotation in the absence of two of the quarterback’s more familiar targets. Once again, it’ll be a crowded receiver room, because Egbuka has already shown he can be a top receiver on this team.