Ohio State's 5 Most Important Players In The Final Month Of The Season

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 31, 2018 at 10:24 am
Binjimen Victor

In order to reach the College Football Playoff, Ohio State must win its remaining four regular season games and the Big Ten championship, and even still, some scenarios remain that would leave the team out of the hunt.

It’s hard for some people to focus too much on the playoff, though, given the result of the team’s most recent game, a loss to Purdue. Ohio State hasn’t been dominant since the beginning of the season.

This year, the pass attack has been formidable, but other parts of the offense, including the run game and red zone, leave much to be desired. The defense has given up far too many big plays, has been leaky in the back seven and has been hit with key injuries throughout the season.

Despite the issues that have hindered the Buckeyes for portions of the first eight games, the team still has top-flight talent. Some players need to step up in the final month of the regular season in order for them to position their team for a potential run at a playoff spot.

Here are five of the most important players in the final stretch of the season.

Binjimen Victor

Some people thought Austin Mack would break out and become one of the team’s most impactful offensive weapons this year. Though that didn’t happen, he had an intricate role in the offense with 26 catches for 331 yards and a touchdown, and he has played more snaps than any other skill position player on the team. So, when he got injured against Purdue with what might be a season-ending foot injury, that dealt a serious blow to the wide receiving corps.

In his stead, Binjimen Victor becomes significantly more important. Through his first two-and-a-half seasons at Ohio State, he has been an enigma. At times, he has made incredible plays, like the 47-yard touchdown against Penn State that Urban Meyer called one of the best plays he’s ever seen in person. But more often than not, he’s been a non-factor. This season, he has 14 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and he has the lowest snap count among the six rotation wideouts.

After the game against the Nittany Lions, Ryan Day said that was “just one catch,” and noted Victor had to continue building on the performance. Against Purdue, he had a single-game career high five catches for 67 yards. The Buckeyes need consistency from him more than ever. Without Mack, Victor will need to begin to fulfill his potential on a game-to-game basis, instead of just making flashy plays once in a while.

Defensive end Chase Young

In the immediate aftermath of Nick Bosa’s injury, the Eleven Warriors roundtable debated who was the most indispensible player on Ohio State’s defense. All three participants, including me, picked Jordan Fuller. I’d still lean toward Fuller, but after watching the Buckeyes struggled to get a consistent pass rush from the defensive line without Bosa, it’s less of a sure thing.

In Bosa’s absence, the pressure was on Chase Young to step up and become what he was supposed to be next year: the team’s premier pass rusher. He’s been that at times. Against Penn State, he had six tackles and three tackles for loss to go along with two sacks.

Chase Young

But in the three games after facing the Nittany Lions he has a combined five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1/2 sack. Ohio State coaches and players have referenced quarterbacks getting the ball out of their hands as a reason for a lackluster pass rush. But on Tuesday, Meyer also admitted he thought the pass rush would be “a little bit better” than it has been since Bosa went down.

Young doesn’t have to be Bosa. But in order for Ohio State’s defensive line to impact games in November, he must have more Penn State-like performances than he has in the past three games.

Right tackle Isaiah Prince

Both Isaiah Prince and Urban Meyer assessed that the third-year starting right tackle has played “pretty good.” It’s a fair judgement, though Prince has struggled more in recent weeks than he did at the beginning of the season. He was beat by Minnesota’s Carter Coughlin a few weeks ago, then proceeded to make a few poor plays in a row. The next week, against Purdue, he had his fair share of struggles.

As the leader on an offensive line that hasn’t been much of a force in the run game, he has to become the consistent blocker that led him to be one of the most improved players on the team last season. The line looks to Prince for a steadiness, and given its up-and-down performance this season that has been more down than up in the past few games, he needs to get the unit settled down, while also improving his own play.

Running back J.K. Dobbins

It can be hard to know just how much J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are reasons for Ohio State’s poor, declining run game. The coaching staff struggling to design successful running plays without a dual-threat quarterback and the offensive line’s inability to get a push or block the assignments have both been issues. On Tuesday, Meyer said both running backs have been “frustrated” with the lack of success running the ball, but also noted they have to become better at running through tacklers.

“There's times where you've got to make your own hole and plow through it and make positive yardage,” Meyer said. “We worked extremely hard on that on the bye week.”

J.K. Dobbins

Dobbins entered the season with better Heisman Trophy odds than Dwayne Haskins by some reputable bookmakers. But he has had just one game with more than 82 rushing yards, and he averages just 4.3 yards per carry after a 7.2 yard-per-carry average as a freshman last season. Some of the run game struggles have come due to factors out of Dobbins’ control, but he needs to become significantly more of a threat on the ground in the final four regular-season games after averaging 3.4 yards per carry or fewer in each of the past four games.

Safety Isaiah Pryor

It has been a rocky first year for Isaiah Pryor in the back end of Ohio State’s defense. He’s been the cause of more than a few leaks in a shaky defense in the first eight games of the season. In Meyer’s first press conference after returning from his suspension, he said the defense needs to shore up the big plays allowed. On Tuesday, in Meyer’s most recent media availability, he once again diagnosed big plays as the biggest problem on the defensive side of the ball.

Pryor has played a substantial role in that remaining an issue, and it’s pertinent for the Buckeyes that he becomes more of a sure tackler since he’s often the last resort to make tackles. With Shaun Wade needed at nickelback, Ohio State doesn’t have any other particularly intriguing options at safety, so it’s up to Pryor to make those improvements in the final month of the regular season.

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