Jack Sawyer Says Freshman Season “Didn’t Go Exactly the Way I Wanted It To,” But Finds Jim Knowles’ Defensive System “Intriguing”

By Griffin Strom on December 23, 2021 at 8:35 am
Jack Sawyer

No matter how high the expectations heaped on Jack Sawyer by Buckeye fans, they’d have a hard time reaching the ones he’s placed on himself.

Despite playing the fifth-most snaps (170) among Ohio State defensive ends, the five-star true freshman’s three sacks through 12 games are either equal to or more than any other player on the team at his position. Only three Buckeye defensive ends had more than Sawyer’s three tackles for loss in the regular season.

In spite of all of that, the Pickerington, Ohio, native isn’t satisfied with his first-year performance.

“All of us coming in are really competitive guys, I think to play the game of football you’ve gotta be a highly competitive guy and set expectations really high. So maybe it didn’t go exactly the way I wanted it to go, I think I’d be lying if I said that, but I think it was a good step in the right direction for my career,” Sawyer said. “But we have more important things than my career we need to take care of; the Rose Bowl game and coming together as a team collectively.”

Sawyer has certainly had his moments in 2021, recording sacks against Akron, Maryland and Nebraska and logging 34 or more snaps in appearances against Akron and Rutgers. But in the final five games of the regular season, Sawyer averaged fewer than nine snaps per game, playing just 16 combined against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan.

Remaining dialed in year-round for the duration of a grueling college football calendar is one element Sawyer found difficult as a true freshman, and it’s something he hopes to get a better feel for as he turns the page to his second season.

“I think it’s just the day-to-day stuff. It’s a grind, it’s a long season. Just kind of staying locked in and focused from fall camp – which is another grind in itself – and then jumping right into the season,” Sawyer said. “So I think we all kind of learned from it, we’re gonna attack that and the next season a little bit differently, a little more aggressive, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Sawyer said his responsibilities have not abruptly changed since bowl practices began earlier this month, but he and fellow five-star freshman defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau have started to adopt a different mental approach as they prepare to see an increased role moving forward.

“I think more so it’s kind of like our mindset’s changed a little bit. As this season’s kind of coming to a close and me and J.T. are developing and growing into men, I think we are starting to realize that we gotta take it to the next level with everyone we do,” Sawyer said. “We’re gonna have more of an important role next year and more of a leadership role next year that our defense needs. I think that’s kind of more the way it’s going for us right now.”

Teammates have noticed that switch as well. Senior defensive end Tyreke Smith said “the sky’s the limit” for both young Buckeye edge rushers.

“I feel like they’re more locked in, I feel like they’re locked in on their technique, going out and doing everything with a purpose. Just trying to be impactful in practice, so I feel like they’re doing good. … I feel like they are already doing better than I was my freshman year, so I feel they’re sponges to the game, they want to learn as much as they, they’re always asking questions. And they always go out there and give 100 percent, go out there and give maximum effort. So you don’t have to coach their effort, they’re always going hard. 

“So I feel like when you got guys like that and they’re sponges to the game, it’s only a matter of time when they’re gonna skyrocket.”

The season isn’t over yet, but the forthcoming offseason transition for Sawyer, Tuimoloau and the rest of the Buckeye defense will see some change with the new addition of Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to the Ohio State staff.

Sawyer said “we’re still gonna do a lot of the same things schematically” even with Knowles taking over, but said he’s both open to and excited about the tweaks that will undoubtedly come under new defensive leadership.

In Sawyer’s preliminary research on the 2021 Cowboy defense, which leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 54 sacks this year, its aggressiveness has caught his eye.

“What stood out to me is they’re always attacking, which I like,” Sawyer said. “They’re always bringing a couple guys and they’re always attacking the offense instead of playing on their heels, and I like that. Hopefully we do some of that ... Coach Knowles obviously knows what he’s doing, so I’m excited to get to talk to him.”

Of particular note for the Buckeye defensive line is Knowles’ use of a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position (known as a Leo) that could line up on the edge, in the interior or back off the line of scrimmage altogether.

Given Sawyer’s speed and slightly smaller frame relative to the Buckeyes’ other defensive ends at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, his name has been among the first thrown around as a potential candidate to fill the role.

“It’s definitely intriguing for a guy like me who’s kind of played everywhere growing up and played linebacker the majority of my life until high school,” Sawyer said. “How they kind of stand them up and back them off the ball, it’s definitely intriguing for a guy like me who likes to play in space too. So I took a little bit of a look at that position, it looks pretty cool. … I think I’m pretty good in coverage, I’d like to say that. So we’ll see how it plays out.”

Before any of that can take place, Sawyer still has one more game before his first season in scarlet and gray comes to an end. The Rose Bowl draws nearer every day, and Sawyer has every intention of starting the new year off with a win.

“We definitely need to walk away with a win,” Sawyer said. “We’ve got to end the season the right way because we’ve had too good of a year to go in the Rose Bowl and lay an egg, so I definitely look forward to getting a win in the Rose Bowl and coming out of it the right way, and the only way to do that is with a win.”

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