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: What question would you like to see answered by Ohio State in the opener?
Quick, what are the sweetest words in the English language? The answer is: “It is an Ohio State (football) game week.” And we are finally here... or there, I guess. Either way, Gene, we finally made it! A new college football season really begins this week, as I am choosing to ignore the Week 0 farce. So in the legendary words of Marvin Gaye, “Let’s get it on.”
Wait, did I just make it weird? I think I made it weird. You (all) know what I mean/meant... Let’s talk Buckeye football and a real, live, living, breathing game.
OSU hits the road to Bloomington to take on Indiana at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, and Ryan Day’s squad is favored by roughly 30 points. Not one of your typical openers – either a marquee matchup or a human sacrifice in the form of a non-P5 team – Saturday’s contest is some combination of both. The Hoosiers are obviously a Big Ten conference foe, but few if any would call them a viable threat. To the Buckeyes or the rest of the B1G. Because let’s be honest, Tom Allen’s team is not very good. The same could have been said when these two teams kicked off the 2017 season, a game Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes won 49-21.
On the other hand, we don’t know how good this Ohio State team is or might be. We know how they are looked at and/or perceived heading into the 2023 season, but as of Monday morning, OSU doesn’t even have a starting quarterback! Kind of important, Gene! But before I get too worked up over potentially nothing, I should point out that QB is just one of the unknowns for this year’s Scarlet and Gray squad. Are these ‘unknowns’ of the utmost significance? No, probably not. But they do create uncertainty around a Ryan Day-led team that is or should be out to prove something.
With that in mind, Gene and I decided to each pose a question that we
would like need to be answered during Week 1. And this cannot bleed into Week 2. I need to know right away! Surely, I jest, but we do not want these questions to go unanswered for too long.
Leading off, I am going to pass on the obvious. My partner can have the low-hanging fruit if he likes, but I actually have quite a bit of faith in Day and company to figure out the QB situation. I think the coach has earned that confidence and trust, so I will look elsewhere. The question I absolutely need to have/be answered is “Can OSU sack the quarterback?”
It has been nearly four years since Chase Young obliterated quarterbacks and set Ohio State’s single-season sack record under the legendary tutelage of defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Since then, LJ’s ‘Rushmen’ have played and performed like the ‘Bleh-men’ (sorry), totaling 91 sacks in 34 games. And actually, that is not even accurate, due to the fact that several sacks have come from linebackers and defensive backs. I somehow just fact-checked and pissed myself off in the same breath!
Regardless, the Buckeyes’ DL performance has been subpar since Young left Columbus. Johnson is still very much in town, and there are some who think the game has passed him by. I am not quite there yet. I see what his best guys are doing at the next level, and I say to myself: “There is no way that this man’s teachings and techniques have become irrelevant.” Furthermore, the legendary DL coach continues to recruit elite players. But I need to see some pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2023, otherwise, I think OSU could find themselves in real trouble.
Ohio State’s secondary should be much-improved this season, and provided that is the case, the DL will have no excuses. I was willing to side with that unit while Buckeye DBs were getting torched like a marshmallow over a campfire, but Tim Walton and Perry Eliano finally seem to have those guys on the right track. So now it is up to Johnson’s Rushmen to really earn back that moniker.
If a unit comprised of J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Kenyatta Jackson, Caden Curry, Mike Hall Jr., Tyleik Williams, and others can’t get it done, then what the hell are we doing here!? It’s not as if Indiana boasts an offensive line comparable to the Philadelphia Eagles or Kansas City Chiefs, but they’ve got some guys, right? And they have a new OL coach in Bob Bostad who did solid work at Wisconsin. So this is at least some sort of test for those Buckeyes along the DL. Will they pass with flying colors? Or provide more potential than production, like in recent seasons?
I need to know which one it is going to be in 2023, and I cannot wait to find out.
Like Josh, I am also curious to see how this year’s Ohio State defensive line performs. As I wrote about in a column from earlier this morning, one of my major concerns this year is the ongoing battle between Larry Johnson and Jim Knowles over the use of the Jack position. How much will that play into the Buckeyes’ ability to sack the quarterback this season, and will we see players like C.J. Hicks and Mitchell Melton thrust into that role as an extra edge rusher?
However, since Josh already said his piece on the matter, I will look elsewhere. I will not take the low-hanging fruit as my counterpart suggested in looking at the quarterback battle. I’m confident in whoever starts between Kyle McCord and Devin Brown, especially with all of the talent at the skill positions around them, and I have a feeling we will see a little bit of both guys on Saturday one way or another. There is a chance this question is answered before game time, but I do think we see this competition extend beyond preseason camp into Week 1.
Instead, I will also be taking a look at the defensive side of the ball, but my focus is on the secondary. I am interested to see how the five starting spots among the defensive backfield plays out, as well as how much rotation we see and who exactly it is that is playing on important downs.
Knowles’ system requires three safeties and two corners being on the field in his base defense. We can confidently say that one of the starting cornerbacks will be Denzel Burke and one of the starting safeties will be Lathan Ransom, but outside of those two guys there is room for intrigue. That being said, one of those other two safety jobs looks to be locked down as well.
We have heard that Sonny Styles has impressed enough this offseason to earn another of the safety spots. The former five-star graduated early to get an extra year of experience at Ohio State and saw a pretty decent amount of snaps against Georgia in the College Football Playoff as a freshman who should’ve still been in high school. It is no surprise that he is now a starter, and he will look to wreak havoc in a hybrid nickel safety/Sam linebacker role. I am excited to see the different ways that Knowles finds to use the talented athlete.
That leaves just one starting corner and one starting safety up for grabs.
At corner, we will likely see some combination of Jordan Hancock and Davison Igbinosun, but the question remains who will actually see the majority of reps opposite Burke? Hancock has the added bonus of having additional time in Knowles’ system but did struggle at times last season after returning from a hamstring injury that cost him half the year. Now healthy, he will have to battle the Ole Miss transfer Igbinosun, who comes to Ohio State having been named a freshman All-American in 2022.
Behind them, the competition for the starting free safety spot looks to be a three-way competition between Ja’Had Carter, Malik Hartford, and Josh Proctor, with Kye Stokes a distant fourth. The Syracuse transfer Carter seems to have the inside track as a former All-ACC honorable mention, but has battled some injuries in the offseason that have opened the door. Hartford, despite being a true freshman, has generated a lot of buzz for his play throughout camp and could see significant snaps in year one. Proctor, on the other hand, has not done anything during his time at Ohio State to warrant any additional playing time.
I’m expecting to see some heavy rotation in Week 1 in a game that the Buckeyes should be able to put out of reach relatively quickly, which would be ideal in allowing all of these guys to see the field at one point or another as the Ohio State coaching staff assesses what they have in real game reps. Ryan Day’s group has three de facto tune-up games before heading to Notre Dame in Week 4, but it would be nice to come out of the Indiana game with some sort of feel for what your ideal starting secondary looks like.