Ohio State Took Precautions With Several Banged-Up Buckeyes Against Toledo, But Injuries Concerning Nonetheless Before Big Ten Opener

By Griffin Strom on September 18, 2022 at 12:57 am
TreVeyon Henderson
Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports

There were a couple of last-minute modifications to Ohio State’s availability report before kickoff against Toledo. High-profile ones, at that.

The Buckeye football program had already announced that 10 players would be unavailable for their Week 3 meeting with the Rockets. But starting safeties Josh Proctor and Tanner McCalister were added to that list when neither one came out in full uniform for final pregame warmups.

Only, the injury surprises didn’t stop there for the Buckeyes.

Star running back TreVeyon Henderson went to the locker room after the first drive for the Buckeye offense and didn't play another snap. Starting cornerback Cameron Brown did the same in the second quarter. Mike Hall, who emerged as a breakout star for the Buckeye defense in the first two games, didn’t play a snap despite not even being listed on Ohio State’s status report.

None of that mattered Saturday, as Ohio State decimated its in-state opponent by a 56-point margin. Perhaps it won’t matter next week either, as the talent on the roster gives Ohio State quality options (of varying degrees) at almost all the position groups in question. But it certainly won't help.

As far as Proctor, McCalister and Hall are concerned, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game, “they were all available” Saturday and only held out as a precautionary measure. He also said he expects them to be ready to play next week. But they aren’t the only Buckeye starters whose status will be in question throughout the coming week.

And regardless, the timing is far from ideal for the Buckeyes, who open their Big Ten schedule with perennial West Divison frontrunner Wisconsin next Saturday.

“There’s a handful of those kind of things that are going on, but we haven’t seen anything that we think is gonna be long-term. So we’ll kind of regroup after tonight and figure out where everything’s at,” Day said. “But this was a situation with a lot of those guys that we just wanted to, out of the abundance of caution, make sure they were 100% before we put them in the game. …  But there were a few things, a few guys that were struggling with a couple things, so we decided to hold on.”

Even if Ohio State remained undefeated with another lopsided win on Saturday, it’s probably not coincidental that the Buckeyes’ had their worst defensive performance of the season against the Rockets. Ohio State entered the game having given up just 22 points and a single touchdown combined through two weeks. The Buckeyes allowed Toledo two trips to the end zone in the first half alone, and it finished with 21 points and 307 total yards – both single-game season-highs against Ohio State.

The Buckeye secondary was the unit most singularly impacted by Ohio State’s injury pileup. Not only did Proctor and McCalister not play, but reserve safeties Jantzen Dunn and Jaylen Johnson were also unavailable. Not only did Brown leave injured, but No. 3 corner Jordan Hancock missed his second straight game entirely as he continues to recover from a preseason injury.

Ohio State gave up a 50-yard touchdown through the air on Toledo’s first drive of the game, which illustrated that very fact. It might have also indicated that Brown wasn’t quite himself, as Rockets pass catcher Thomas Zsiros blew right by the speedy veteran DB on the route that earned him a touchdown.

Before halftime, Brown went back to the locker room with a member of the Ohio State training staff. In his place with the first-team defense, for the most part, was second-year corner JK Johnson, who has benefitted from Hancock’s injury to become the Buckeyes’ third-string cornerback at the start of the year. At safety, Lathan Ransom replaced Proctor at bandit and Cameron Martinez filled in for McCalister at nickel.

Ransom had already been threatening for Proctor’s spot as Ohio State’s top bandit since the season opener. Still, Johnson and Martinez have far less experience as integral members of the Buckeye defense, should they be called upon to reprise those roles next week.

However, Ronnie Hickman – who picked off a pass for the unit in the second half – isn’t worried about the group, no matter who suits up.

“Next man up. Those guys made plays throughout the whole offseason, throughout camp and stuff like that,” Hickman said. “So there was no worries or hesitation as far as us and our confidence in the room. I knew those guys were going to step up and make plays, they do it every day in practice. So it was nothing. Like I said prior to the season starting, one thing I like about this defense is the depth we have in the room.”

An injury to Hall might not have seemed like too big a deal for the Buckeyes before the season, given the number of names that figured to split time at defensive tackle for Larry Johnson and company. But in the first two weeks, Hall was arguably Ohio State’s best overall player on defense, racking up five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

Hall appeared to hurt his shoulder in the second half of last week’s Arkansas State win, but Day said after the game that the redshirt freshman’s status wasn’t a concern. By the following Saturday, though, it was enough of a problem to keep the disruptive tackle out of action – even if he was suited up in full uniform on the sideline.

And injuries to first-string Buckeyes weren’t limited to the defense.

“Big Ten play is different. It’s more challenging, it’s more physical up front. ... We’re starting with a big challenge with a great line of scrimmage team on both sides coming up next week when Wisconsin walks into the Shoe.”– Kevin Wilson

Given the treatment he received from trainers on the sideline after returning from the locker room in the first half, Henderson's affliction appeared to be to his leg. Day said the issue was “something new” for Henderson, unlike the problems that limited him in a few games as a true freshman. 

Luckily for the Buckeyes, second and third-string running backs Miyan Williams and Dallan Hayden stepped up to combine for 185 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Even freshman walk-on running back TC Caffey contributed 57 yards and a score on the ground.

Ohio State’s wide receiver corps got a significant boost ahead of kickoff, as Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming returned to action after battling injuries at the start of the year. Fleming caught a pair of touchdowns in his season debut, but Smith-Njigba didn’t exactly have a triumphant return as he saw just three targets for two catches and 33 yards.

In fact, neither played in the second half against Toledo, but that was another precautionary measure from Day, who said, “we got them some reps and then kind of got them out of there. So that was good.”

Ohio State employed that approach with several banged-up Buckeyes on Saturday, preferring to play things safe before entering a physical Big Ten matchup in a week. But if several of those players still aren’t totally healthy, one can’t help but think Wisconsin could expose Ohio State’s shorthandedness more than Toledo was capable of doing.

“Big Ten play is different. It’s more challenging, more physical up front,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said after the game. “No disrespect, I had a lot of respect for Toledo’s defensive line coming in. The Notre Dame front we played was very, very deep and talented. But when you get into Big Ten play, it’s a line of scrimmage league. It’s a tough league. It wears on you week after week after week. 

“We’re starting with a big challenge with a great line of scrimmage team on both sides coming up next week when Wisconsin walks into the Shoe.”

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