Larry Johnson and the Ohio State Defensive Line Sent a Clear Message to the Country's Top Pass Rushers

By Andrew Ellis on December 31, 2017 at 7:05 am
Larry Johnson and the Ohio State defensive line put on a show Friday night.

Mission accomplished.

The Ohio State defensive line put together one of the season's most dominant performances against a surefire top NFL Draft pick. The unit sacked Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold seven times on Friday night – with Jerome Baker and Malik Harrison pitching in for No. 8 – as the Buckeyes recorded their highest sack total since 2007. 

In a game that delivered a 5.9 overnight rating—the highest-rated non-CFP Cotton Bowl of the New Year's Six Era and an 84% jump over last year's matchup between Western Michigan and Wisconsin—the rushmen simply outmatched the USC offensive line from start to finish.

With the entire country looking on, it couldn't have happened at a better time for Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes' recruiting efforts

The 2018 recruiting calendar has hit the homestretch and Ohio State's biggest need continues to be in the trenches. Johnson has already loaded up at defensive tackle as Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai, and JUCO star Antwuan Jackson made things official during the early signing period. But defensive end remains a huge need heading in 2018.

Chase Young is going to be a star, Jonathon Cooper is in line for an expanded role, and of course everyone knows about Nick Bosa. The talent certainly isn't the concern. The depth, on the other hand, is in need of a boost. Sam Hubbard announced yesterday that he was heading to the National Football League, and Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis will both be doing the same. 

Ohio State is set to lose at least three of its starting defensive linemen, and we're still waiting on Dre'Mont Jones to announce his decision on whether or not to return for a redshirt junior season. But Larry Johnson and Urban Meyer have to be ecstatic with the final hurrah that the unit delivered on Friday night.

At least one NFL reporter and Draft analyst certainly was paying attention. 

Last week we touched on Ohio State's pursuit of Cleveland's Tyreke Smith and New Jersey four-star Jayson Oweh, and both of the pass rushers are set to announce their decisions on Thursday at the Under Armour All-America Game. Smith is the top remaining uncommitted weak-side defensive end. Oweh is the country's top remaining strong-side rusher. 

Smith and Oweh both arrived in Orlando yesterday, and each recruitment appears to be in a different place right now. There seems to be little doubt surrounding Smith's destination, and the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder indicated that he already has informed the staff of his decision. The Buckeyes are clearly the team to beat according to the 247Sports crystal ball, but there's been plenty of back and forth between Urban Meyer and James Franklin. 

Oweh's decision still appears to be very much up in the air. There's no doubt that Penn State was the early favorite, and that may still be the case but he seems to be truly enamored with Johnson's history of developing players at the position. After watching the Ohio State defensive line against the Trojans, who can blame him? 

Tyler Friday is another player that we probably should be talking more about, and the versatile four-star is likely going to sign with either Michigan or Ohio State in February. Depending on the scheme, he's a guy who could play either inside or out, though the Buckeyes are recruiting him at defensive end.

The state of Ohio is absolutely loaded with pass rushers for the Class of 2019 as well. Zach Harrison is a five-star and the country's No 4 overall prospect. Cade Stover is another Buckeye lean, and while the Lexington defender could end up at linebacker, his future may very well be along the line. West Chester's Steven Faucheux and Mentor's Noah Potter are two more pass rushers who are among the state's top prospects.

Friday night's performance should send a clear message, but it remains to be seen just how it will be received. The first domino (dominoes?) should fall this week during the All-American festivities. 

Eleven Warriors will have previews for both the Under Armour All-America Game and the Army All-American Bowl in the coming days.

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