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Burning Questions: Will the 2023 season be the return of the dominant defensive end

After Chase Young left for the NFL, Ohio State’s defensive end production dropped drastically.

Ohio State v Illinois Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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 the most important questions yet unanswered for the season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content and our ”Burning Questions” articles here.

It’s time to ask a question that has been on my mind since Chase Young was the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NFL draft: Will the 2023 season be the return of the dominant defensive end at Ohio State?

For a seven year period, 2013-2019, Ohio State had at least one dominant force on their defensive line. Joey Bosa starred for the Buckeyes from 2013-2015 before being selected No. 3 in the 2016 NFL Draft. Nick Bosa followed in his brother’s footsteps from 2016 to 2018 and was taken No. 2 in the 2019 NFL Draft. Chase Young followed after the Bosa brothers going No. 2 in the 202 NFL draft.

For seven seasons the best defensive player in the country wore scarlet and gray and resided in Columbus Ohio, but since then there has been a drastic drop off in production.

Former five-star recruit Zach Harrison was supposed to be the next best thing, and while he had a good career at Ohio State, he never turned into a star. Following Harrison, Ohio State landed two five-star defensive ends in Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, who to this point have only shown flashes of greatness, but have not broken out like their predecessors.

Tuimoloau and Sawyer are entering their third season, in which the Bosa brothers and Chase Young broke out, solidifying themselves as the top defensive player in their respective drafts. The major difference between Tuimoloau, Sawyer, and the previous three stars is their level of production through their first two seasons.

Check out the chart below for a comparison:

Ohio State Defensive End Stats Through Two Seasons

Player Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Player Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Joey Bosa 97 35 21 0 4
Nick Bosa 63 23 13.5 0 1
Chase Young 52 19.5 14 0 2
J.T. Tuimoloua 45 15 7 2 1
Jack Sawyer 35 9.5 7.5 0 1

As you can see through their first two seasons, Sawyer and Tuimoloau are nowhere close to keeping up with the statistical outputs of the former three superstars. For comparison, If you combined JT and Jack’s numbers, they would have 80 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Combined the two of them are still not beating Joey Bosa in any singular category besides interceptions, where J.T. is responsible for two interceptions throughout his career.

Now, I don’t want you to misconstrue the tone of this article. I am not by any means saying that J.T. and Jack are bad players or that they’re busts, but they have not reached the level of play that we had gotten used to with Larry Johnson led defensive lines.

Ohio State hasn’t won the Big Ten or beat Michigan in the past two seasons, and while that is not solely based on the performance of the defensive line, the lack of dominant defensive ends has contributed to a defense more susceptible to big plays. From 2015 to 2020 Ohio State had six defensive backs drafted in the first round. While a few of them turned into stars in the league, it’s fair to say that for a couple of them, their value was inflated due to having back to back to back quarterback killers who forced offenses to either throw quickly or abandon the passing game altogether.

Without a dominant defensive end, the linebacker play has dropped and the secondary has been picked apart in almost every big game — including last season’s game against Michigan. For Ohio State to reach its goals in 2023, it will need one or both of its highly-ranked defensive ends to make the third-year leap. The Bosa Brothers and Chase Young were all individually dominant in their third season, and while we probably have enough information to accept that J.T. and Jack are not on their level, we still need a big season from both guys before they head to the NFL.

Check out the third-year stats from the previous stars:

Ohio State Defensive End Stats in Year Three

Player Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Player Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Joey Bosa 51 16 5 1 1
Nick Bosa 14 6 4 0 1
Chase Young 46 21 16.5 0 7
*Nick Bosa only played four games due to an injury

Joey, Nick, and Chase all found a way to raise their games in their third season, helping Ohio State’s defense become one of the best in the nation. We may never see another individual season like Chase Young in 2019, but if Ohio State wants to take control back from Michigan and stop Georgia from a three-peat, they will need a dominant pass rush, and that requires J.T. or Jack to take a massive jump in their third season.

Larry Johnson is a legend, but if neither Sawyer nor Tuimoloau breaks out in 2023, he will be 0-for-3 in developing his last three five-star defensive ends. A lot is resting on this defense in 2023. The Buckeyes can’t afford to have a mediocre pass rush for a fourth straight season.