Ohio State welcomes undefeated Penn State to The Shoe this weekend, and with both Big Ten and possible College Football Playoff implications on the line, the Buckeyes are (and have been) a bit banged up... To say the least. And it has not been ‘death’ by a thousand cuts for Ryan Day’s squad, but rather deep, cavernous, painful cuts — AKA losing and/or missing some of their biggest and brightest stars.
Wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have all missed at least one game, while cornerback Denzel Burke left this past weekend’s blowout of Purdue after having his legs swept out from under him by friendly fire. The latter did not return, and there is a strong argument to be made that his (Burke) potential injury is the most impactful of all, as the Nittany Lions look to stalk prey in Columbus.
But there is no need to take a turn to Negative Town just yet, as we do not know the extent of Burke’s injury. And there is certainly a possibility that one or all of the others mentioned above have recovered from theirs. Unfortunately, we are not likely to find out if any of these banged up Buckeyes are available until 10AM Saturday because Day
hates us is rather cagey when it comes to details. Which is a bitter pill we must accept and swallow.
Ohio State players and coaches have been vocal about their ‘next man up’ mentality, and thus leaned into it – or were forced to do so – against the Boilermakers. To great success, really. Multiple pass catchers performed well in place of Egbuka, and when the OSU was down just about every RB on their roster, Dallan Hayden rose from the ashes like a bulldozing phoenix, to the tune of 76 yards and a touchdown.
But Purdue is not Penn State, and Penn State is not Purdue. There is an absurdly large chasm between the two teams, in terms of talent, experience, and probably even coaching. So if the Buckeyes are without a handful of starters on Saturday, then several ‘other guys’ – or less-heralded players – will need to step up in their absence(s). Like Hoitz and Gamble, baby. Below are a few names that come to mind:
QB Devin Brown
If backup QB Devin Brown enters Saturday’s game due to injury, go ahead and sound the alarm(s). While obviously talented, this second-year signal caller just hasn’t much to inspire confidence... when it comes to throwing the ball. Running it, on the other hand, is or might be a different story.
After losing the QB battle and essentially being placed on ice for the better part of a month, Brown reemerged against Purdue as a goal line threat. He carried the ball eight times for 20 yards and a touchdown, and would have added a second rushing TD had he practiced better ball security.
Obviously, OSU can ill afford to be sloppy and turn the ball over against Penn State, but Brown does add an interesting wrinkle to the Buckeyes’ inconsistent ground game. His usage against Purdue may have been a one-off, but do not be surprised if we see him in the lineup (again) in a goal-to-go situation. Especially with PSU DEs Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac potentially screaming in off the edge.
RB Dallan Hayden
Dallan Hayden highlights vs Purdue pic.twitter.com/1N6y7uXIbO— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) October 14, 2023
If Brown’s presence in the game is cause for (slight) concern, Hayden’s might be cause for celebration. No offense to Brown or any of the other Ohio State RBs, but Hayden looked to be the best fit for running behind his team’s inconsistent offensive line. The redshirt candidate ran with authority against Purdue, identifying lanes quickly and running through them with bad intentions. Granted, one game in which Hayden did not even start is a small sample size, but the kid looked good.
Also, we should not just ignore the many talents of Henderson. I personally believe that he is the most naturally gifted Buckeye back, but his general usage is puzzling. Regardless, even if Henderson is back on Saturday, Hayden has earned additional opportunities. The redshirt idea is/was fun and all, to preserve the true sophomore for future seasons, but OSU needs their best players on the field Saturday. He is one of those players.
WR Julian Fleming
Look, I’ve already purchased half of Fleming Island, and now I need to sell some condos. I’ll never give up all of my Fleming Inc. holdings, but the market is very, very, very soft right now. If Julian has a good game in place of or next to Egbuka – which he is absolutely capable of – then prices go up.
OL Josh ‘Jimmy’ Simmons and Josh ‘Just Josh’ Fryar
I’m just asking for a good game, fellas. I need it, we need it, your team needs it. Penn State’s defensive line is a force to be reckoned with, but I believe, baby!
LB Cody Simon
We heard it from Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles on Tuesday: Simon is neck-and-neck with incumbent LB Steele Chambers. While the latter has seemingly regressed, the former has been taking advantage of opportunities earned. Simon actually led the Buckeyes in tackles last weekend, and this coming Saturday, he may be relied upon heavily to help slow down a prolific Nittany Lions rushing attack.
I have never been the biggest ‘Simon guy’, however, there is no denying that he has shown significant improvement in 2023. He is still an absolute liability in coverage, that will likely never change. But in the right spots, hopefully he can be used as a blunt object to deliver hits to PSU’s Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
CB Jermaine Mathews Jr.
Freshman Jermaine Mathews Jr. with the pick-six! Ohio State up 63-10 pic.twitter.com/bg3J4f3EGJ— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) September 16, 2023
Mathews Jr. playing a major role in this weekend’s game would be concerning to me personally, only because I believe that Denzel Burke has played at or near an All-American level this season. He (Burke) has been that good, essentially shutting down half the field each week. If the junior is unable to go, and it is Mathews Jr. who starts in his place – or rotates in when Jordan Hancock moves to the slot – then I think my concerns are or would be justified.
But then again, who says that a true freshman corner can’t come in and (also) play at an All-American level? Certainly no one in Columbus. Because Burke and Davison Igbinosun, the Buckeyes’ other starting CB, both did it!
Knowles was pretty effusive in his praise of Mathews Jr. on Tuesday, and the latter has already played meaningful snaps for OSU, so perhaps the Cincinnati product is ready to step in and step up. And if he plays well in place of Burke, great! I would still rather have the known commodity. But the young fella has earned his coaches’ trust, and those same (secondary) coaches have earned mine. So godspeed, Jermaine Mathews Jr. I hope that you ball out if called upon.