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You’re Nuts: Biggest reason for optimism after Ohio State’s Week 1 performance

The Buckeyes are 1-0, contrary to how fans are feeling.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

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: Biggest reason for optimism after Ohio State’s Week 1 performance

Josh’s Take

Ohio State kicked off its 2023 football season with a 20-point victory over a Big Ten opponent, but it was, uh, far from a masterpiece. The Buckeyes’ offense looked clumsy and disjointed with junior quarterback Kyle McCord at the helm, although he had his moments and may have even been hindered by his own coaches.

And the defense, while stingy in terms of yards and points, was not the most disruptive group in the world. The new ‘Silver Bullets’ limited explosive plays to virtually zero, but also failed to put any pressure on Indiana’s two quarterbacks — ya know, when the Hoosiers actually made an effort to advance the ball downfield.

But a dub is a dub, and this Week 1 contest always had the potential to be sort of odd and fluky, in my opinion. Because not only was OSU rolling out a new QB and a new offensive line, but they were (also) doing so on the road, at 3:30, in a sleepy venue, against an opponent whose coach is fighting for his professional life. Tom Allen and IU had very little interest in actually winning! opening this game up, which reduced the number of overall possessions and nearly brought the action to a dead stop on several occasions... Those fans in Bloomington sure have some fun times ahead!

I don’t want to sound salty here. Or give the impression that I am using sarcasm to mask my concern. Because frankly, I am not overly concerned... Yet. I did not expect a perfect game from the Buckeyes, nor did they deliver one. No harm, no foul. Now Ryan Day and company have a few weeks to work out the kinks. And if they do, the team’s performance in Bloomington will become a distant memory.

With that in mind, Gene and I decided to take the optimistic route for this edition of You’re Nuts. We wanted to share what gave us the warm and fuzzies on Saturday — AKA our biggest reason(s) for optimism after what some would consider a lackluster Ohio State victory.

So I am going to go with the Buckeyes’ defensive secondary. Tim Walton and Perry Eliano’s group was inarguably the most impressive unit on the field, even if they were not pressed into a ton of action. And maybe that is because Tom Allen believed all the preseason hype and decided not to throw in Denzel Burke and/or his peers’ direction? Or maybe he (Allen) has negative trust in his QBs, which is really none of my concern.

What is or definitely was concerning to me was OSU’s pass defense during the latter part of the 2022 season. TTUN and UGA threw the ball all over the yard against the Buckeyes, and let’s be honest, it pretty much cost the Scarlet and Gray a national championship. I will always believe that. But on Saturday, Burke and the boys looked fantastic. Like a potential strength of this Ohio State team, which has not been the case for at least a few years.

There were few if any misses or busts by the DBs, and that alone is progress! There were also no interceptions or highlight plays to speak of, but the secondary play was very solid. And I can live with that. In fact, I will gladly take it. Burke was credited with two PBU, Davison Igbinosun was in on a handful of plays and tackles, and Jordan Hancock flashed upside on more than a few occasions. And those were just the cornerbacks.

At safety, Sonny Styles was perhaps the defensive player of the game for OSU. He made plays all over the field and showcased the unicorn potential fans have been hearing about. Fellow safety Josh Proctor was a heat seeking missile, doing so without making the egregious errors we have seen from him in the past. And Lathan Ransom was Lathan Ransom: Steady, in the right spots, ready to make a play if and when called upon. True freshman Malik Hartford also looked good as... a true freshman! Gotta love that.

Ohio State held Indiana to just 82 yards through the air, although again, Tom Allen had very little interest in actually trying to pull off an upset. But Buckeye DBs still deserve plenty of credit. When the ball was put in the air, they were knocking it down and playing a disruptive brand of football. And we as fans went most of an entire season (2022) without seeing much of that. So I will hang my hat on the secondary play and choose to remain optimistic about everything else as well.

Because you know what they say, Gene: Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took at least three weeks and a few get-right games against ancient Penguins and Hilltoppers.

Gene’s Take

Pretty funny after all the flaws Ohio State has had defensively over the past several years that Josh and I both came out of Week 1 more optimistic about the defense than the offense. While this Buckeye team is far too talented at the skill positions to not get the shortcomings on offense figured out, and I know at some point things are more likely to get rolling than not, I still need to see something from that group — and moreso the man holding the call sheet — before I come out with blind optimism.

That’s why my most optimistic take of the game is that this Ohio State defense has tremendous depth and talent across the board.

Up front, we saw a handful of guys rotate in along the defensive line. Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are your definite starters at the end spots, but Caden Curry has shown flashes and Kenyatta Jackson is another guy that impressed in camp and could be thrust into action if needed. Up the middle may be Ohio State’s deepest group as a team, with Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams receiving the bulk of the playing time but Ty Hamilton, Jaden McKenzie and Hero Kanu all rotating in and making an impact one way or another. Kanu even registered the team’s lone sack!

In the secondary, the Buckeyes have a trio of talented players they rotated in at cornerback in Denzel Burke, Davison Igbinosun and Jordan Hancock. All three saw the field on Saturday, and all three showcased solid cover skills and great open-field tackling. Behind them at safety was perhaps Ohio State’s best defensive player overall in Sonny Styles at the nickel, and alongside him Josh Proctor and Lathan Ransom manned the other two safety spots. We also got to see a good amount of true freshman Malik Hartford, who seems to be pushing for a starting job.

The only position where we didn't see much — if any — rotation was at linebacker, where Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers played virtually every snap. The Buckeyes do have talent at the position behind them with C.J. Hicks and Cody Simon, and we saw a little of Simon, but for whatever reason Hicks didn’t get any playing time at all and Jim Knowles elected to play his two starters for basically the entire game. You can’t afford to burn out Eichenberg and Chambers early in the season, so while the depth is here, I would like to see it used more — especially the former five-star Hicks.

Unlike last season, where it seemed like there was a significant drop-off from the ones to the twos when Ohio State made subs on defense, that is now not the case. At least through one game, this year’s Silver Bullets were playing confident and fast out there, and also limited the big play that plagued them late last year. There is a lot of football left to be played, but of all the things I saw against Indiana, the depth across the field on defense made me confident in this team going forward.