From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about our Unreasonable Expectations. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our Unreasonable Expectations here.
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: Unreasonable expectations for an Ohio State player/ position group in 2023
In case you have not heard, read, or made the effort to find out (shame on you), this is Unreasonable Expectations Week at LGHL, and Gene and I wanted to start the week off right, with a little bit of positivity. The power of positive thinking, if you will. We kicked around an idea of which player or position group do you have the most positive unreasonable expectations for, but frankly, I could not decide on just one (or the other). So I chose to write about one of each.
Right, wrong, or other, I looked at our You’re Nuts topic like this: Which player or position group do we have high expectations for, despite contrary evidence? Despite what our eyeballs watched and saw last season? I was not ready to call it a blind faith scenario, but it kind of is. Because I am high on these players, despite the fact that most (or all, which is an argument that could be made) had a down year in 2022. So let’s get to it.
From a player standpoint, I expect TreVeyon Henderson to have a big, productive bounce-back season. I am jumping on the Tre Train, despite his injury-riddled 2022 season which saw a massive regression in rushing and receiving yards, receptions, touchdowns, and yards per carry. Henderson could really never get it going for long stretches, and appeared in just eight games for the Buckeyes. A bummer of a 2022 season, indeed.
My expectations might be considered even more unreasonable given the uncertainty around Justin Frye’s offensive line, as well as the running back rotation that Henderson finds himself a part of. But I am banking on talent, of which Henderson possesses a ton. Remember, this dude is a big, strong burner who put up nearly 1,600 total yards and 19 touchdowns as a true freshman. He is an elite, elite talent. And I think we will see that talent shine through again in 2023.
When healthy, Henderson offers the total package and the highest upside. He owns a versatile skillset which is unmatched by other Ohio State backs. He is faster than the entire bunch, arguably quicker and shiftier, has receiving skills only theoretically matched by those of Evan Pryor, and is still the most experienced ball carrier on the OSU roster.
And I think Ryan Day’s team is going to need all of that – all of those things – out of the backfield this season, especially with questions up front and at the quarterback position. Henderson is flat-out the most capable playmaker at the RB position, so I believe he will be leaned upon as long as he is healthy... Which might be its own unreasonable expectation, but we won’t bring that up.
As far as position groups go, and I will keep this brief because I am writing a longer piece on it/them, I expect Ohio State’s defensive line to absolutely ball out in 2023. This is despite a lackluster 2022 showing which saw the DL produce just 24 sacks. So why do I have this potentially unreasonable expectation? Because I believe in the talent, plain and simple.
OSU is loaded up front. And unlike last season, Larry Johnson and Jim Knowles will be forced to play their most talented guys — not just those with seniority. Sounds like a solid improvement plan.
No offense to former Buckeyes, but last year’s DL group was nothing special, collectively speaking. The interior lacked size and speed when certain players were in the game, and there was little pass-rushing juice on the outside. But that is because guys like Jack Sawyer, Kenyatta Jackson, and Caden Curry were either out of position or on the sideline, while Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams were banged up or in the doghouse. They will not be watching in 2023, as long as most or all are healthy. And that is a good thing.
Call my high expectations for this DL unreasonable if you like, but I think last year’s rotation was unreasonable. So I am hopeful that reason prevails in 2023. Alright, that’s more than enough reason from me, Gene. You’re up.
While I do have some very real concerns about this year’s Ohio State team, mainly those surrounding the offensive line and the defensive backfield, I am still largely optimistic about this year’s group of Buckeyes. Ryan Day’s team has a ton of returning talent, and while they will be breaking in a new quarterback, so too is every AP Top 5 team from last season besides Michigan with J.J. McCarthy. However, for my unreasonable expectation for a player, I’ll be looking on the defense.
Piggybacking off of what Josh said about Larry Johnson’s defensive line, my first unreasonable expectation here is that Jack Sawyer will have 10 or more sacks for Ohio State in 2023.
This would be a massive uptick in production for the former five-star edge rusher, as Sawyer has amassed 7.5 total sacks in his first two seasons in Columbus, but I truly think he is going to have a breakout season as a junior. Sawyer spent almost the entirety of last season playing at the Jack position, but now that he is moving back to a true defensive end, we will finally get to see him put his pass-rushing ability on full display. With guys like Tuimoloau, Hall and Williams occupying the line next to him, opposing teams won’t be able to double on Sawyer either.
I am really high on what Jack Sawyer can do now playing at his natural position. We are, of course, talking about a player who totaled 34 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks over his last two high school seasons. Sawyer was the No. 3 DL prospect in the 2021 class, behind only Korey Foreman and his teammate Tuimoloau. I don’t think this is a Zach Harrison situation where his skillset is not about getting to the quarterback. Sawyer is going to be a sack artist, and he will bet he first Ohio State DE to register double-digit sacks since Chase Young.
As far as my unreasonable expectation for a position group goes, I’m banking on Ohio State’s defensive secondary to be much improved. Coming off a year where the Buckeyes ranked 26th in passing yards allowed and 14th in total defense in the country while playing in an offensively-challenged Big Ten, I think this current group in Columbus — IF used correctly, and that’s a big if — can rank top 10 in the nation in passing defense.
My perhaps outlandish expectation here stems from some of the young guys that we could see on the field this season. Spring practice did not inspire a ton of confidence in Ohio State’s coaching staff getting its personnel decisions correct with both Josh Proctor and Cam Martinez getting reps with the ones, but if Sonny Styles and either Ja’Had Carter or Kye Stokes occupy those spots instead, I think the Buckeyes could really have something cooking here.
Last year’s passing defense was simply not good, but a starting group this season comprised of Denzel Burke and transfer Davison Igbinosun at the corner spots with Styles, Lathan Ransom and either Carter or Stokes at the three safety spots inspires a ton of confidence that this unit can turn things around. Combine that with the possibility of seeing more of C.J. Hicks in a third linebacker type of role on obvious passing downs to go with the two seasoned vets at LB as well as an improved pass-rush, and this team should have no excuses to not be good at defending the pass.