Stock Up/Down: Ohio State's Linebackers Looks Rejuvenated, Chase Young's Dominance Continues, Under-Center Offense Returns

By Colin Hass-Hill on September 2, 2019 at 10:29 am
Chase Young

Week 1 is in the books.

After the long, drawn-out offseason, football has returned. Ohio State opened its 2019 season by beating Florida Atlantic, 45-21, on Saturday, and it has begun preparation for its Week 2 game against Cincinnati in five days.

Let's get into this week's stock report.

Stock Up

Chase Young

It's a fair question to ask whether Young is even eligible to find himself on this list based on how high his stock was entering his junior season, but we're placing him here anyway.

Ohio State didn't have fellow starting defensive end Jonathon Cooper available due to an injury. And Larry Johnson also didn't have his top two backups – Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday – at his disposal; they were listed as game-time decisions and did not play. Those losses didn't have much of an impact on Young's production.

Gus Johnson might still be adding sacks to Young's total as you read this, but he officially finished with 1.5 sacks. After the game, Lane Kiffin said Young single-handedly forced Florida Atlantic to change its game plan, comparing his impact to that of Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. He'll likely follow Garrett and become a top-five NFL draft pick in the spring. Before then, expect him to terrorize opposing offenses for the rest of the season.

The Under-Center Offense

At points in the offseason, Ryan Day talked about the possibility of going under center at times this season, but even a week before the opener he downplayed the likelihood.

On Saturday, though, it became clear the Buckeyes had spent ample time implementing under-center packages. They used formations with as many as three tight ends on the field at once, motioned tight ends into the backfield to act as fullbacks, called play-action passes and ran it up the middle. 

And it worked.

After the game, Day said he believes it's important to have a balance on offense. The under-center offense has arrived, and it's here to stay. 

The Linebackers

Most Ohio State fans entered Saturday with a cautiousness toward Ohio State's linebackers. Since they were often such a sore spot a year ago, it wasn't particularly comforting that Al Washington decided to roll with the same three starters that Billy Davis leaned on last year, even though he said he entered the program giving every linebacker a blank slate. 

Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison and Baron Browning responded by impressing throughout Saturday's game, flying around on the field and epitomizing the "violence" that Day said he saw from his defense. Werner and Borland, both of whom dealt with plenty of criticism a year ago, played well. Harrison had a few massive hits. Browning showcased his rare combination of speed and size. Importantly, the unit had a cohesiveness that it lacked in 2018.

We'll see if the linebackers can maintain this level of performance going forward against more talented opponents. But they passed their first test.

Jeremy Ruckert

Will the tight ends finally become a major part of the offense? After game one, it appears that they might. With Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert, along with Jake Hausmann and Rashod Berry when he returns to action, Kevin Wilson has a quartet of tight ends he can put to use.

Ruckert only had one catch as a freshman, and he had two touchdowns to open his sophomore season. 

It would behoove the Buckeyes to continue to get Ruckert involved in the passing game. With the size of a tight end, he has a chance to become a matchup advantage in Day's offense against linebackers and defensive backs.

Jashon Cornell

In a pair of offseason interview sessions, Cornell expressed an emotion somewhere between excitement and relief that he had moved back inside to defensive tackle after playing defensive end a year ago. The fifth-year senior simply wasn't consistently effective, especially as an edge rusher, as a defensive end. In March, he said his pass-rushing skills inside are "so much better" than his abilities to get to the quarterback from the outside.

Given that sentiment, I had my doubt about his productive he would be filling in at defensive end on Saturday due to the absence of Cooper, Smith and Friday. He responded by putting together arguably his best game as a Buckeye with four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

Cornell will likely slide back to defensive tackle once the defensive ends return to full health, and we'll see if he can build on this performance from the interior of the line.

In-Stadium Wifi

It wasn't perfect. But it was absolutely an upgrade from years past.

That's a win.

The In-Stadium DJ

Yes, Ohio State is home to a band named "The Best Damn Band In The Land." And yes, it deserves a major presence at all Buckeyes football games.

But guess what: the band and the DJ co-existed at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, and everything was OK. 

Having been to every home game since 2016, not much seemed to change. In fact, there actually appeared to be a larger variety of music, especially during the two hours before the game. The only visceral difference? DJ Axcess had a booth set up near the tunnel Ohio State runs out. But it wasn't in the way of anything, and he didn't try to take over and make his presence known by playing outlandish music or disrespecting the band.

If Ohio State had announced it planned to have a DJ in Ohio Stadium, I don't think many people would have even noticed a difference.

Stock Down

Backup Defense

Both Ryan Day and Jeff Hafley complimented the performance of the starting defense after the game, and they both made unprompted statements about wanting to see better play from the backups.

Florida Atlantic finished the first half with negative yardage, and it ended the game with 21 points and 228 yards.

No, the Buckeyes won't be relying on most of the players who were on the field on defense late in Saturday's game during meaningful moments in important games. But depth matters as the season progresses, and the coaches want to be able to turn to some of the defensive players who played at the end of the victory if necessary.

A Return To Freshman Form From J.K. Dobbins 

Throughout the offseason, both Dobbins and the coaches often talked about returning Dobbins to his freshman productivity. That didn't happen on Saturday.

Dobbins had 21 rushes for 91 yards and a touchdown, an average of 4.3 yards per rush with no carry going for more than 17 yards. In order to get Ohio State's offense running at per performance, Dobbins has to consistently increase his yards-per-carry average to six or seven yards.

Coaching From A Hospital Bed

Hugh Freeze. Buddy. What are you doing? 

Liberty would scored the same amount of points on Saturday whether he decided to watch the game from home or coach from a hospital bed.

And if Freeze decided to coach, he didn't have to do a press conference.

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