Florida Atlantic Notebook: Jeremy Ruckert Catches Two Touchdowns, Branden Bowen and Austin Mack Return to the Lineup and Ohio State Tests Defensive Line Depth

By Dan Hope on August 31, 2019 at 9:54 pm
Jeremy Ruckert

Jeremy Ruckert had more touchdown receptions in Ohio State’s season opener on Saturday than he had total receptions all of last season.

After catching just one pass for 13 yards as a true freshman, Ruckert caught four passes for 38 yards – including two touchdown catches – in Ohio State’s 45-24 win over Florida Atlantic to start his sophomore season.

Ruckert caught the first touchdown pass of Justin Fields’ Ohio State career when he was left wide open over the middle of the field for a 25-yard touchdown catch on the Buckeyes’ second possession of the game. Then, in the third quarter, Ruckert got wide open again in the end zone to catch a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fields.

The Lindenhurst, New York, native’s family was at Ohio Stadium for Saturday’s game, so Ruckert said it was special to be able to have a breakout game with his relatives watching. He didn’t want to give himself too much credit, though, recognizing that his scoring opportunities came largely because he was left uncovered.

“I didn’t do anything special, I was just in the right place in the right time, and it was executed by the team so well,” Ruckert said. “Justin, the O-line, the group running the right pick routes, it was just all a perfect outcome and it’s exciting for my family to enjoy it.”

Ruckert made his first career start in Saturday’s game, as the Buckeyes opened the game in a two-tight end set with both Luke Farrell and Ruckert in the lineup, and they continued to deploy multiple-tight end packages frequently throughout the afternoon. That led to regular playing time for not only Farrell and Ruckert but also Jake Hausmann, who played just 11 offensive snaps in 2018, with Rashod Berry unavailable for Saturday’s game. Ruckert, though, was the only Ohio State tight end to catch any passes on Saturday.

He was one of three players on Ohio State’s offense to make his first career start on Saturday, along with Fields and center Josh Myers. Left guard Jonah Jackson, who was the starting right guard at Rutgers last year, also made his first start as a Buckeye on Saturday.

Ruckert is the first Ohio State tight end to catch two touchdown passes in a game since Nick Vannett had two touchdown receptions against Rutgers in 2014.

Bowen, Mack return to action

As was well publicized earlier this week, Ohio State right tackle Branden Bowen played in his first game in nearly two years on Saturday. 

For the first time since breaking his leg in the Buckeyes’ sixth game of the 2017 season, Bowen was back in the lineup on Saturday. Bowen, who started the first six games of 2017 at right guard, started at right tackle against FAU and played all the snaps at the position until Ohio State’s final two possessions, for which he was replaced by Nicholas Petit-Frere.

Going into Saturday’s game, Bowen thought he would be emotional about being back on the field after such a long layoff, during which he had to undergo three surgeries to heal his injury. That said, Bowen said he didn’t reflect much on what it meant to him to finally get to play again until after the game, as he was focused on simply doing his job in the heat of battle.

“It was more exciting than anything,” Bowen said. “When it comes down to it, it’s a football game. As soon as the foot hit the ball, I was ready to go. I was thinking about football only and my assignments and my opponents and everything like that. It didn’t really hit me until after.”

Bowen wasn’t the only player on Ohio State’s offense who returned to the starting lineup after missing time with an injury. Austin Mack started the game at wide receiver after missing the final six games of last season with a foot injury. Mack had missed time in preseason camp, too, with an undisclosed injury, but he was full-go on Saturday and caught a pair of passes for 21 combined yards.

“It was great to be back out there,” Mack said. “You miss it, being away from it for so long, so it was exciting, it was fun and hopefully I can stay healthy the rest of the season.”

Buckeyes go deep on defensive line

Ohio State was without four defensive linemen who are expected to be regulars in the Buckeyes’ rotation this season for Saturday’s season opener. Defensive end Jonathon Cooper and defensive tackle Taron Vincent were designated as unavailable for Saturday’s game, and defensive ends Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday did not play either, despite going through warmups after being designated as game-time decisions due to undisclosed injuries.

That didn’t stop Larry Johnson from continuing to deploy a deep defensive line rotation in Saturday’s game. 

Jashon Cornell started in place of Cooper at defensive end – and recorded four total tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack – while Davon Hamilton shifted over to 3-technique defensive tackle to start alongside nose tackle Robert Landers, giving the Buckeyes three fifth-year seniors to go along with Chase Young in their starting lineup on the defensive front.

Behind them, many other more inexperienced defensive linemen also saw their share of playing time.

At defensive end, redshirt freshman Javontae Jean-Baptiste and true freshman Zach Harrison each saw regular playing time with the first-team defense while redshirt freshman Alex Williams and true freshman Noah Potter also saw playing time in the second half. All four of them were playing in their first games as Buckeyes.

Tommy Togiai, Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson and Jerron Cage, meanwhile, all saw their share of playing time off the bench at defensive tackle. Perhaps most notably, Jackson – who played only 24 snaps in his first season as a Buckeye last year – recorded three total tackles, including a tackle for loss.

The only scholarship who did not play for Ohio State in Saturday’s game were those who were listed on Friday's availability report, also including true freshman defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie, who was designated as unavailable.

It's unclear whether the defensive linemen who missed this week's game will be back for next weeks game against Cincinnati, but Cooper, who has been reported to have a lower-leg injury, was seen walking with a limp on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Wide receiver C.J. Saunders was also seen walking with a crutch before Saturday's game, suggesting that he could be sidelined for more than just the season opener.

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