Zach Harrison Has “No Problem” Playing More Defensive Tackle After Creating Two Turnovers on the Inside Against Rutgers: “It’s Great For Our Defense”

By Griffin Strom on October 6, 2022 at 10:10 am
Zach Harrison

The pair of turnovers Ohio State forced against Rutgers had a couple things in common.

Both were created by senior defensive end Zach Harrison, and both came with the veteran edge rusher playing inside at defensive tackle as part of the Buckeyes’ rushmen package.

During a season in which Harrison has yet to be credited with an official sack or tackle for loss, those two plays represented his best performance of the year. And given the surplus of talent at defensive end, with both Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau pushing Harrison for reps on the outside, it’s only natural to wonder if he’ll see more reps on the interior of the Buckeye defense moving forward.

“I think it's great. It's great for him, it's great for his future, it's great for our defense and it gives people something to think about too, and plan for.”– Jim Knowles on Harrison playing DT

As far as Harrison is concerned, the Buckeye coaching staff can line him up wherever it wants as long as it results in success for the unit. In fact, Harrison said Wednesday he spoke to defensive line coach Larry Johnson after Saturday’s game about the prospect of getting more work at tackle.

Harrison also acknowledged the need for more experience at the position before he’ll feel quite as comfortable rushing the passer from the inside as he does on the edge.

“I told Coach J I like it. If he wants to put me in there, I have no problem going and rushing at 3-tech,” Harrison said during a mid-week interview session. “That's pretty much the extent of that. I just told him I like it and I'm willing to do it and work on it a little bit at practice. Little one-on-ones at 3-tech.”

“It's a little different. It's not as much space, but I definitely like doing it, and I definitely want to continue doing it. But I gotta get reps in practice at it to perfect my craft because I have countless reps rushing at end and on tackles, and I don't have as many rushing on the guards. So that's something that I'm continuing to work on and I'm excited about.”

On a 3rd-and-7 scramble by Rutgers quarterback Evan Simon late in the first quarter of Saturday’s Buckeye blowout, Harrison fought through a block from the Scarlet Knight left guard to get both hands on the opposing passer before he reached the line of scrimmage. Before Simon hit the turf, Harrison had pried the ball out of his hands to cause a fumble that Mike Hall Jr. recovered on the Ohio State 49-yard-line.

Then on another Rutgers third down with under a minute remaining in the third quarter, Harrison struck again. Lined up to the right of Hall as Ohio State’s 3-tech tackle, Harrison bulled his blocker straight back into Simon and used his outstretched right hand to deflect a pass that fell into the hands of Buckeye linebacker Steele Chambers.

Both takeaways resulted in Buckeye touchdowns at the start of the subsequent quarters.

Listed at 6-foot-6, 272 pounds, Harrison’s frame is far from that of a prototypical defensive tackle. But Harrison’s strength held up just fine against the Scarlet Knight guards, and his long arms created plenty of problems once he found his way to the Rutgers quarterback.

“(I’m) using what God gave me and my length and my speed to put them in position that they're not used to,” Harrison said. “They're used to quicker but heavier-set guys and more power guys. And I don't necessarily have that, but I've got different things that can provide problems for inside guys.”

But what did Jim Knowles make of Harrison’s performance on the inside? The first-year Buckeye defensive coordinator said it’s usually tougher for a defensive end to move inside than it is for a tackle to work outside. But Knowles seemed thrilled by Harrison’s production in that role and said it will benefit the current Buckeye defense and Harrison’s potential at the next level.

For Knowles, whose defensive mission statement involves creating confusion for the offense, it also gives opposing coaches even more to prepare for when taking on an improved Ohio State defense.

“I think as an edge rusher, teaching them to do defensive tackle things (is more difficult). On the edge, there's some freedom, and there's some space. Inside, there's nothing but heavy traffic,” Knowles said. “So any time you're in a position where you could get a block this way or a block that way, you have to be a real warrior to do that.

“I think it's great. It's great for him, it's great for his future, it's great for our defense and it gives people something to think about too, and plan for.”

When asked about the creativity Knowles brings to the table as the head of the Buckeye defense, Harrison glowed about his coordinator on Wednesday. Harrison said all the different looks Ohio State gives an opponent on one drive alone under Knowles “keeps the offense on their toes” and “makes them think a little more.”

Harrison said this year –  perhaps more than ever – he’s been in the “perfect position” to make plays, which is primarily due to the leadership on defense.

“Who knows what Coach Knowles got in his brains? Sometimes I just look at the play card and I be like, 'How does he (think of that), like that's a good ass play. Like, I don't know how you came up with that,’” Harrison said. “So it's just a testament to Coach Knowles and his mind and how he sees the game just differently than any of the coaches that I've been around since I've been here. I'm not saying that any of them were bad or better than Coach Knowles. It's just different the way how he approaches the game and his mentality.”

A five-star recruit and top-15 prospect in the class of 2019, Harrison’s production to this point hasn’t exactly lived up to the sky-high expectations. Five games into his fourth year in the program, Harrison has 7.5 career sacks, with 3.5 of those coming in his true freshman season alone. But the former Buckeye captain said the experience has only helped him improve, and he’s picking up on more details than ever before.

“This is a program where people are developed and players are developed, and everybody's journey is different,” Harrison said. “And you know, me being a senior now, I've seen a lot of things and been through a lot of things and seen a lot of players and seen a lot of plays. And just little things that I've I noticed that it's kind of hard to notice if you don't play football for a long time. I just try my best to keep noticing those things, and helping the younger guys pick up on some of those things – or tendencies or maybe how to work this move and how to set up this and do things like that. Just trying to pass my knowledge down.”

As for the notion that more reps at defensive tackle might bolster his NFL draft stock, Harrison said that’s far from his focus at the moment.

“No, I don't think about the next level too much,” Harrison said. “I'm just trying to help the Buckeyes win.”

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