You know the season's fast-approaching when the 11W Roundtable opens back up for business.
And with just 11 sunrises to go before you're able to drink that sweet, sweet Ohio State victory nectar, it's time to dive in as part of our ongoing Season Preview series.
They'll dive into whether or not the revamped offensive line can control the line of scrimmage when it counts, break down the receiving corps, tab some breakout players and opine on if Ryan Day will capture his first national title.
Ohio State lost a pair of starters on the offensive line in Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford to the NFL but the outlook up front seems bright especially if the starting unit of Paris Johnson Jr., Donovan Jackson, Luke Wypler, Matthew Jones and Dawand Jones can stay healthy. Will Ohio State be better running the ball against top defenses this year? Will Ryan Day be more committed to the run? Why or why not?
Ramzy: This line reminds me a lot more of the Munford-Jonah Jackson-Josh Myers-Wyatt Davis-Branden Bowen line from 2019 in terms of architecture than last year’s Tackle festival, which was just weird and not conducive to rushing the ball - there’s a reason Guards exist. Justin Frye’s track record for producing strong rush-blocking lines is even shinier when you look at his cross-over seasons with Ryan Day at Temple (no.7 nationally in rushing yards!) and Boston College (they had the Doak Walker winner!)
So yes, based on last year’s shortcomings, this year’s returning talent and the familiarity between the head coach and the OL coach - there should be a greater commitment to the run. I will miss last year's fearless flexing of throwing on 4th and short to Chris Olave, JSN and Marvin Harrison, but it’s okay now to admit that was more out of necessity than arrogance.
Chase: I think Ohio State will have success running the football this season, but maybe not initially. Donovan Jackson and Matthew Jones have more prototypical bodies for interior offensive linemen than Thayer Munford and Paris Johnson Jr. from last season. That will help the Buckeyes establish the run game in the trenches as Johnson, Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler return for their second years as starters up front. Ryan Day preaches having a balanced offense that can run and throw the football, but I believe he is more interested in C.J. Stroud slinging the rock than having him hand the ball off to a running back. TreVeyon Henderson and company will have their moments in 2022, but I expect that passing attack to be the primary focus for Ohio State this fall.
Matt: Since Day took over in 2019, Ohio State has faced 14 opponents with a rush defense ranked in the top 20 nationally entering the contest. How many times did the Buckeyes rush for more than the top defense's rushing yards allowed average? A surprising 12 times out of the 14 games in this scenario.
Now, let's put some more perspective on that stat. Ohio State's run game was held in check against Michigan and Utah, the last two games of the year. Also, the 2021 team averaging 180.6 rushing yards per game was the lowest since Urban Meyer's 2018 team averaged 171.3 per game.
Speaking of Mr. Meyer, how did his teams do rushing against top 20 rushing defenses over his last three seasons in Columbus? The Buckeyes faced 11 top rush defenses and surpassed the average rushing yards allowed in 10 of those contests.
Average rushing yards per game against top rush defenses? 217.6 for Day compared to 208.0 for Meyer.
What does this mean? During Day's first three seasons, his run game performance against top rush defenses is on par with Meyer's last three years.
A possible reason why it feels like Day is abandoning the run is due to the average rushing yards per game declining every year he's been the head coach. Another reason the run game feels less potent is that Day has elite quarterbacks and the passing game has racked up video game numbers during the same stretch.
Did you know Meyer's rushing yards per game dropped or stayed the same every season between 2013 and 2018? Yet, nobody was calling for the demise of the running game during his last six seasons.
With that said, hopefully, the past performances, especially last year's Michigan game, were a wake-up call for Day. I hope it will be.
There might be some growing pains under new offensive line coach Justin Frye. But with Treveyon Henderson having a year under his belt and Miyan Williams ready to pound, I expect Day and Ohio State to do better than last season's 180.6 yards per game rushing average.
Which defensive position group needs to show the most improvement from last season in order for Jim Knowles' first unit to make a run at being a top-10 scoring defense?
Matt: Linebackers. How long has it been since you've felt Ohio State has had multiple linebackers that were difference makers? How about one?
Today's game puts a lot of stress on the linebacker unit. Notre Dame should be a good litmus test to see if the Buckeyes' linebackers have improved at being run-stoppers.
Ramzy: The linebackers were rarely put in position to succeed last season and out of respect for the departed, we can abstain on disparaging the philosophy that made the Buckeye defense so easy to solve for the teams with the talent to do so. Creating pressure means the DL needs to get to the QB a beat and-a-half faster than it did in 2021.
But forcing opposing offenses to rely almost exclusively on big plays requires effective coverage of deep threats, so I’ll go with the increasingly thin DB group. Am I already anxious about Ohio State getting meshed to death the way Don Brown’s defenses were? That’s yes a rhetorical question yes that I yes refuse to answer yes how dare I even say this aloud, what’s wrong with me.
Chase: The defensive line must stop the run for Ohio State to become a top 10 scoring defense in 2022. When the Buckeyes needed to halt an opposing ball carrier last season, they couldn't do it, which led to losses against Oregon and Michigan. To that same end, the team's edge rushers need to sack the quarterback more often. Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste were always a half-second too late last season and couldn't finish the takedown. That could change when Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer are the tandem creating chaos in the backfield for Ohio State this fall.
We know Jaxon Smith Njigba is going to lead the Buckeyes in receiving yards provided he's healthy. After that, the opinions vary on how the top 2-4 receivers will shake out. Who do you have finishing second, third and fourth in receiving yards this season?
Chase: Ohio State's receiving production will be, in order: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming. Smith-Njigba is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in the locker room with top 10 pick in the NFL Draft written all over him. Harrison flashed in the Rose Bowl last season and seems poised to build upon that performance, while Egbuka and Fleming will battle out for No. 3 in what should be a neck-and-neck race.
Matt: Harrison Jr. is a freak and I expect him to push JSN for the top spot statistically this season. Physically, the 6-2, 205-pound son of NFL royalty matches up with David Boston's sophomore height and weight.
Harrison Jr. isn't just big, he's also strong. Being able to complete 22 reps of 225 pounds and maxing out at 380 puts him in the Joey Galloway freaky strong stratosphere. A player that shares the attributes of two of Ohio State's finest receivers? Yes, please.
Fleming might edge Egbuka out for the third spot, but I like saying Emeka Egbuka too much to let him slide below third. That, and the flashes Egbuka displayed returning kickoffs last year were special.
Ramzy: This is an invitation to gush about the passing offense which I’ll respectfully accept. Marvin Harrison Jr. should be a nightmare for opposing defenses trying to figure out how to allocate coverage guys. Julian Fleming is going to get their third-best guy, a hideous mismatch for every secondary on the schedule that isn’t Notre Dame, Iowa, Penn State or Michigan. If it’s not Fleming there, Emeka Egbuka - I don’t have enough observables to be as definitive with him but I know who his position coach is so I’m not worried about it. I think Jayden Ballard is a wildcard that will rudely show defenses they can’t relax when Harrison is off the field.
Give us one breakout player on either side of the ball and justify your answer.
Ramzy: Let’s go with Gee Scott Jr. on the offense, only because wishing a TE would break out at Ohio State is a tradition that dates back to the Taft administration. Defensively, give me Tyleik Williams at 3-tech making things easier for the secondary by wrecking the line of scrimmage.
Chase: Tommy Eichenberg. He's not necessarily a "breakout player" per se, but I think he is in line for an excellent season at linebacker for Ohio State. Honestly, I see no reason he couldn't be the first Buckeye linebacker to record 100 tackles in a season since Raekwon McMillen accomplished that feat in 2016. Eichenberg is a captain of the program and the captain of the defense, so I expect big things from him this fall.
Matt: Marvin Harrison Jr. finished last season with 11 catches for 139 yards. His Rose Bowl performance was a preview of what we will see in 2022. As mentioned above, Harrison Jr. is a freak and the son of an NFL Hall of Fame player. Enough said.
Finishing as we always do, how does Ohio State's season play out? Does Michigan get what's coming to them? Will the Buckeyes reach the CFP? Does Day capture his first national title?
Matt: It will be great if Ohio State sweeps the five home games to start the season in dominating fashion. A spot in which the Buckeyes could drop a game is the four-game stretch between October 8 and November 5.
At Michigan State, home against Iowa and then on the road against Penn State and Northwestern could be tough. However, Day's team should make it through that stretch unscathed. Leaving Indiana and on the road to Maryland as the last hurdles until The Game.
Last year, the Buckeyes looked soft and were bullied on both sides of the line against Michigan. After one year of sitting on that ass-beating, Ohio State will unleash hellfire and carnage on the team from the north.
In Sunday's CFP Preview I selected the Buckeyes to make the CFP, and take down Alabama in the championship. So it is written, so it shall be done.
Ramzy: 15-0, a win over Michigan albeit without the righteous and humiliating earth-salting it deserves - and ascendence into college football immortality. If the Buckeyes keep every opponent under 35 points, they’re running the table. It’s been this charmed before, but the 2022 edition has just enough holes to escape the fates of more complete Ohio State teams.
Chase: I don't want to sound like a homer when I write this, but Ohio State has its best chance to go undefeated in a long, long time. But that's only if the defense becomes respectable under Jim Knowles. I don't think the Buckeyes need a top-five or a top 10 scoring defense to win the national championship. A top 25 unit should suffice. If Knowles produces that in his first season, C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TreVeyon Henderson and others should provide the team with enough firepower to beat any opponent in college football – even Nick Saban and the top-ranked Crimson Tide. I smell a title-winning season brewing in Columbus, the first in Ryan Day's head coaching tenure.