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: Which young player are you looking forward to watching in the Cotton Bowl?
Well, it has been a rough couple of weeks in and around Woody Hayes Athletic Center – AKA The Woody – as the Ohio State football continues to nurse its Wolverine-induced wounds, while at the same time losing players, losing recruits, and generally just sort of maintaining the status quo... I guess?
While several other programs have been busy bolstering their coaching staff, roster, and/or incoming 2024 recruiting class, OSU seems to be doing the exact opposite. They are both leaking oil and carrying dead weight. Almost willingly.
But we’re not here to focus on the negative! Even though the Buckeyes continue to close on the recruiting trail like Craig Kimbrel against the Arizona Diamondbacks (baseball reference for Gene), while at the same time bringing in ZERO reinforcements for players lost and keeping coaches who do little to earn their bloated paycheck(s)...
Nope. We are staying positive, baby. Especially since it is almost Christmas. Heck, I might even enjoy a little spiked eggnog while I write this. Just because I am having so much fun standing near these smoldering scarlet and gray ashes.
With positivity in mind, Gene and I decided to look toward the Cotton Bowl. Though obviously not a College Football Playoff game, Ohio State’s upcoming game against Missouri should provide ample opportunity for several young(er) Buckeyes to show up and show out against a top-tier team, possibly for the first time.
After all, only a handful of young Bucks earned significant playing time this season or were forced into (early) game action like Carnell Tate or Jermaine Matthews. And then there’s the whole ‘we don’t have a single experienced quarterback’ thing, which could be fun. Or depressing. But let’s focus on the former.
Gene and I got to talkin’ about these youngsters and eventually came up with 10+ names of players we are hoping to see ball out on Dec. 29. But because we both think that it (they) will also be a talking point for some of our LGHL colleagues, we chose to write about just one breakout candidate each for today’s edition of You’re Nuts.
Naturally, I decided to go out on a limb. I say that because I am not entirely convinced that this player will even see the field in Arlington (TX). But I am hopeful. Because I truly believe that he will become the next ‘guy’ in a long line of very productive and very successful Buckeye wide receivers.
Without further ado, the young OSU player that I am most looking forward to watching in the Cotton Bowl is Brandon Inniss.
The second-highest rated member of Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class according to 247Sports, Inniss saw very limited action during the regular season. However, he did make his one and only reception count, hauling in a 58-yard touchdown against Purdue (more on that in a second). But despite him having the same number of catches as Patrick Gurd, I still believe that Inniss might have a leg up on some of his teammates when it comes to chemistry with Devin Brown, the Buckeyes’ new starting QB – at least for the Cotton Bowl.
That is because Brown was on the other (throwing) end of Inniss’ TD. And seeing as though both were backups, there were almost assuredly plenty of practice reps shared by the two. So there is a world in which Brown might be the most comfortable with Inniss, and visa versa.
We still don’t know if Marvin Harrison Jr. is going to play in the Cotton Bowl, but my money is on “no”, leaving Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, and gadget guy Xavier Johnson as the top WRs available. Having only three options is neither ideal nor realistic, meaning others – namely Inniss – will or should be expected to step up. And Buckeye Nation has seen this scenario play out before.
MHJ and Egbuka were relatively unknown freshmen when they both stepped up to fill major roles/voids in the 2022 Rose Bowl, so who better for Inniss to learn from when it comes to bowl prep and being the ‘new kid on the block’? Those resources, combined with his talent and pre-established chemistry with Brown, could set Inniss up to enjoy a breakout performance similar to Marv’s against Utah.
Now, Inniss could also get passed on the WR depth chart, fail to make an impact, and/or be failed by an inexperienced QB... But now is not the time to pack an overnight bag for Negative Town, Gene. I think I was pretty clear on that earlier. Go remaining Bucks!
As Josh briefly laid out, things are not exactly going well for Ohio State right now. It is incredibly frustrating that Ryan Day is waiting until after the bowl game to make any changes to his coaching staff, especially as the Early Signing Period opens on Wednesday, Dec. 20 — three days from now. The Buckeyes are actively losing recruiting targets and even current commits as a result of a poorly managed staff and equally inexcusable lack of direction within the program.
Rumors of Larry Johnson’s retirement has Ohio State down to just two defensive line commits and could turn to one by the time players sign their LOIs. The Buckeyes’ defensive line recruiting and play on the field has taken a severe downturn over the last several seasons, and it is time to move on from a legendary but antiquated position coach. I’ve also been very clear my opinions of the whole Parker Fleming debacle, and the feet dragging with his firing and subsequent promotion of James Laurinaitis is costing OSU at least two potential impact commitments at linebacker.
But I digress...
While I have virtually zero reason to be optimistic over the current state of affairs in Columbus, and likely won’t be until Day is fired at the end of next season, at the end of the day Ohio State is still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Their coaches probably won’t put them in positions to succeed, as there are only four defensive assistants on staff — with an offensive-minded head coach, mind you — and the strength and conditioning program is stuck in the early 2000s, but the players themselves are not among the many reasons why the Buckeyes are stuck in disarray.
I do think Ohio State will see a lot of big names return next season. I would be stunned if any of Marvin Harrison Jr., Denzel Burke or J.T. Tuimoloau decide to come back (they shouldn’t, go get that money!) but I would be less surprised to see guys like TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka, Jack Sawyer and Jordan Hancock all return, meaning they would also likely play in the Cotton Bowl. Henderson is probably the least likely of that quartet to return, especially given the shelf life of running backs in the NFL, and even if he does, maybe he could sit out the meaningless matchup against Missouri in preparation for next season.
Either way, I am excited to see Dallan Hayden in greater capacity than we have thus far in his Ohio State career. Even if Henderson decides to return AND play in the Cotton Bowl as well, Hayden is in for a much greater time share with Miyan Williams declaring for the NFL Draft and both Chip Trayanum and Evan Pryor transferring to Kentucky and Cincinnati, respectively. Hayden is the only other scholarship running back on the roster right now, unless you include Xavier Johnson in that mix as a hybrid WR/RB, and is in line to see his stock rise with a big performance against the Tigers.
We have seen flashes of what Hayden can do in his limited playing time at Ohio State through his first two seasons on campus. As a freshman, he carried the ball 111 times for 553 yards and five touchdowns. With Trayanum’s emergence as the change of pace back to Henderson, Hayden got very little action this year as sophomore, totaling 19 carries for 110 yards and one score. Still, even though we’ve gotten to see little of Hayden on a consistent basis, he has shown an innate ability to find the hole and seems to consistently rack up positive yardage when called upon. Especially when Henderson was banged up, there were some who even thought he should be the team’s RB1.
Hayden very well may get his chance to fill that role next season if Henderson elects to go to the NFL. Regardless, in a world where it is of the utmost importance to keep your running backs fresh — both in context of the season and their prospective career — Hayden is going to see the field a lot more in the near future. Hopefully that starts in Dallas next Friday at the Cotton Bowl.