In the ninth game of his fifth-year senior season, Rashod Berry finally got to live out a dream he has had since he was in high school: Playing both sides of the ball in an Ohio State game.
For the first time since 2016, when he was a full-time defensive lineman for the Buckeyes, Berry saw playing time on Ohio State’s defense in Saturday’s 73-14 win over Maryland. With Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper both sidelined for Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes turned to Berry to play situationally as a defensive end in a third-down pass-rushing package that utilized a three-man front.
Ohio State on that third down had Rashod Berry on the defensive line, Zach Harrison at defensive tackle and Baron Browning off the edge as a rush linebacker. pic.twitter.com/Fmc1XcRLu2— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) November 9, 2019
Berry still also saw playing time at tight end, the position he has played since the start of the 2017 season, and in the process became the first Ohio State player to play on both offense and defense in the same game since Zach Boren played both fullback and linebacker for the Buckeyes in 2012.
“It feels amazing,” Berry said after Saturday’s game. “From high school, going into college, I always wanted to play both sides. So for this opportunity to open up like this, it was like, ‘Wow, this is real. I’m really about to do this.’ So it was good.”
Berry had been trying to convince Ohio State’s coaches to allow him to play on both sides of the ball since this summer, and raised the question again following the Buckeyes’ previous game against Wisconsin. He admittedly didn’t know if his efforts to persuade them would work, but he thought it was worth a try.
“There’s always a 50/50 chance. When you ask your mom, ‘Can I stay the night at my friend’s?’ You don’t know, it’s a 50/50 chance,” Berry said with a laugh.
With two starting defensive ends out this week, though, Ohio State finally decided to give Berry that opportunity.
“He's been doing some really good things, and he kind of came to us a couple weeks ago, and then based on the situation, we said, ‘Let's just put him over there,’” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “And so last Wednesday, he went over (to practicing on defense) and did a good job. He flashed a couple times. And so he's very talented, and moving forward, we're going to try to maybe use him in some different spots.”
In order to prepare to play both ways in Saturday’s game, Berry said he didn’t have any free time this past week, as he had to watch the film for both offense and defense. He spent time in both his regular meeting room with Kevin Wilson and the tight ends as well as Larry Johnson’s meeting room with the defensive linemen, and he had to practice the fundamentals of playing defensive end again.
Berry said it wasn’t too hard to get used to playing defensive end again, though, because he had done it before.
“I did it in high school. And when I was over there as a sophomore, I was a good pass-rusher. So I knew I could do it, I just had to prove it again,” Berry said.
Berry was not officially credited with any statistics on either side of the ball in Saturday’s game, but was in on a third-quarter sack that was credited to Zach Harrison.
Wilson has his biggest game yet
Saturday was a big day for the top two prospects in Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2019. While Harrison made his first start at defensive end for the Buckeyes, five-star wide receiver Garrett Wilson had his biggest game yet as he continues to emerge as a bigger factor in the Buckeyes’ offense.
Wilson caught four passes for a season-high 82 yards, the most among all Ohio State receivers against Maryland, including a 14-yard touchdown catch from Chris Chugunov in the back left corner of the end zone early in the third quarter.
Wilson also would have had another 46-yard touchdown reception on a deep ball from Chugunov later in the third quarter, but that one was called back because of a holding penalty on freshman left tackle Dawand Jones.
Regardless, Saturday was another demonstration that Wilson has the potential to be one of Ohio State’s top playmakers sooner than later – though Day still wants to be cautious about putting too much on the freshman’s plate.
“Garrett's still real young, but certainly his talent is off the charts,” Day said after Saturday’s game. “I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves with Garrett, but we think he obviously has a tremendous ceiling, and he's growing every week. He's understanding how to practice. He's understanding how to play within the offense.
“It's kind of like the way Chris Olave came on late in the season, as well, last year as a freshman. He's kind of into that swing right now where he's got some games under his belt,” Day added. “But I think the big thing for him is just going to be how well do you practice, how well do you take care of the ball, what kind of discipline do you have during the week, because if he does that then he could be as good as he wants to be.”
Rotating in with starter Binjimen Victor at the X receiver position, Wilson currently ranks fourth among Ohio State receivers with 18 catches for 216 yards and four touchdowns this year. He also appears to have established himself as the Buckeyes’ top punt returner, as he replaced Demario McCall as the starter in that role against Maryland.
Wilson’s role has gradually increased as the season has progressed, and like Olave down the stretch of last season, he seems to be on the cusp of breaking out and potentially making a major impact for the Buckeyes in their big games down the stretch of the year.
The freshman says he isn’t focused on how big his role will be, though, but simply on making the plays he is expected to make when his number is called.
“When I’m out there, I’m in the zone, for sure,” Wilson said. “But I look at it as just doing my job. If I’m not making that play, I’m upset with myself.”
A return and a reunion
Former Ohio State linebacker Keandre Jones was back in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, this time playing for the opposing team, and the Maryland native made one of the biggest plays of the day for his home-state school, when he blew by Jones on an edge rush to hit Chugunov from behind and force a fumble, which his Maryland teammate Ayinde Eley recovered for the Terrapins’ only takeaway of the day.
Jones, who has been one of the Terrapins’ most productive defensive players this year after playing only sparingly on defense in three seasons at Ohio State, had eight total tackles in Saturday’s game.
After the game, Jones was embraced by a large group of his former Ohio State teammates at midfield, and even though they had just handed his current team a 59-point loss, he told the Buckeyes that he wanted to see them win the national championship this year.
Keandre Jones just got mobbed by his former Ohio State teammates. Then, Jones stopped them to say, Hey, one thing. Im proud of you boys. Go win the natty. pic.twitter.com/WyisefcfqZ— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) November 9, 2019
Malik Harrison, who arrived at Ohio State with Jones as a member of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class of 2016 and spent three years in the linebacker room with Jones, said the jovial on-field reunion spoke to the bonds that are built within the Ohio State football program.
“This brotherhood we have here, even if you leave, it’s still strong,” Harrison said.
In addition to Zach Harrison making his first career start on Saturday, several other young players also achieved milestones for the first time against Maryland.
Sophomore linebacker K’Vaughan Pope recorded his first career interception in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, when he picked off a pass from Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome.
True freshman offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi saw the first playing time of his Ohio State career in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, when he took over at left guard with the second-team offense after Matthew Jones suffered an apparent leg injury that ended his day early.
Dawand Jones officially became the seventh member of Ohio State’s freshman class to burn his redshirt on Saturday by playing in his fifth game of the season.
Backup kicker Dominic DiMaccio, who had missed the only previous extra point attempt of his Ohio State career against Miami (Ohio), made the first two extra points of his Ohio State career on Saturday, following each of McCall’s two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns.
Second-string quarterback Chris Chugunov had the first 100-yard passing game of his Ohio State career by completing eight of 11 passing attempts for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Mitchell returns, others sidelined
Matthew Jones was one of two backups to suffer an injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, along with true freshman running back Marcus Crowley. A cart was initially called for Crowley after he went down following a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter, but he was ultimately able to walk off the field under his own power. Crowley said in a Twitter reply after the game that he is “all good.”
Ohio State players who did not play at all against Maryland due to injuries included senior wide receiver Austin Mack, who was listed as a game-time decision and went through warmups before Saturday’s game, but did not play any snaps.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jaelen Gill, who was not listed on Ohio State’s status report for this week’s game, was in street clothes on Saturday and apparently unavailable to play. Fifth-year senior wide receiver C.J. Saunders, who has not played all year due to injury, was seen on crutches on Saturday; according to a Sunday report by Lettermen Row’s Austin Ward, Saunders is expected to miss the entire season and has applied for a medical redshirt, though it is uncertain whether he would ultimately return to the Buckeyes next year.
Fifth-year senior offensive tackle Joshua Alabi, who had missed the Buckeyes’ previous two games against Northwestern and Wisconsin due to an undisclosed injury, also did not play against Maryland even though he was not listed on this week’s status report.
One player who did return to action against Maryland was linebacker Teradja Mitchell, who had missed the Buckeyes’ previous four games with an undisclosed injury. In his fifth game appearance of the season, Mitchell saw playing time with the Buckeyes’ second-team defense.