Iowa Notebook: Zach Harrison Sets the Tone on Defense, Bradley Robinson Goes Down with Knee Injury, Jordan Hancock Makes His Season Debut and Chip Trayanum Plays at Running Back

By Dan Hope on October 22, 2022 at 10:50 pm
Zach Harrison

From the moment Ohio State’s defense took the field for its first play against Iowa, it was clear Zach Harrison was energized to make an impact.

The Ohio State defensive end immediately began waving both arms in the air, signaling the home crowd at Ohio Stadium to yell louder. The fans responded in turn, and he would give them plenty more reasons to cheer with his play.

On Iowa’s second possession of the game, Harrison forced a third-down incompletion by hitting Spencer Petras as he threw. On the Hawkeyes’ next possession, Harrison sacked Petras on third down, forcing a fumble Lathan Ransom would recover for a takeaway.

One possession later, Harrison made another drive-ending play – after waving to the crowd to yell louder again – when he recorded a 3-yard tackle for loss on a wide receiver run by Arland Bruce IV.

Two possessions later, Harrison made yet another drive-ending play on third down when he broke up a pass out of the end zone by Petras.

That quartet of drive-ending plays set the tone on a day Ohio State’s defense held Iowa to three points and 158 yards. While Tommy Eichenberg had Ohio State’s first defensive touchdown of the season and Tanner McCalister had two interceptions in the Buckeyes’ 54-10 win, Harrison was arguably the most dominant individual player in Ohio State’s fantastic defensive effort.

Per Pro Football Focus, Harrison recorded five pressures on just nine pass-rushing snaps and received the highest grade (97.5) among all players for Week 8 of the college football season.

It was the second time in three games that Harrison made a huge impact for Ohio State’s defense, as he also forced two turnovers in the Buckeyes’ 49-10 win over Rutgers.

“Zach’s playing some of his best football right now,” Ryan Day said after the game. “Zach has really come along. He's practiced really well. I thought his leadership has been good. And I think you guys would agree he's probably playing his best football right now.”

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also praised Harrison after Saturday’s game, saying he always believed Harrison had the ability to play as well as he did against Iowa.

“From the first time I got to be around Zach, I knew that in my mind, he was an elite player,” Knowles said. “Zach has been performing every week on tape, so it's good to see him make more plays and get the recognition, but I think he's elite.”

For a five-star recruit who has been a solid contributor throughout his Ohio State career but not a consistent game-changer, Saturday was perhaps Harrison’s most dominant performance in scarlet and gray. 

When asked if he thought Saturday was his best game as a Buckeye, Harrison was unsure. But he was pleased with how he played.

“I definitely played well today,” Harrison said. “Just gotta keep stacking days, gotta keep practicing well and just keep improving.”

Harrison was also pleased with how the crowd responded to his cheering requests.

“That’s definitely a game-changer,” Harrison said. “Shoutout to Buckeye Nation, because they were rocking.”

Robinson, Ballard suffer injuries

The injury bug bit the Buckeyes again on Saturday, and this time it cost Ohio State one of its specialists.

Long snapper Bradley Robinson went down while covering a punt in the third quarter of Saturday’s game and had to be helped off the field with an apparent knee injury. While Ohio State has not yet provided an official update on Robinson’s status, the injury appeared to be significant, as Robinson was on crutches with a bag of ice wrapped around his injured knee after he was evaluated by the medical staff.

Redshirt freshman Mason Arnold took over long-snapping duties after Robinson’s injury and will likely continue to play that role as long as Robinson is sidelined.

Wide receiver Jayden Ballard was also injured while covering a kickoff return in the second quarter and did not return to the game. While it was unclear exactly what happened to Ballard, he went back to the locker room before halftime and was seen limping when Ohio State returned from the locker room in the second half.

The biggest health question for Ohio State coming out of Saturday’s game may be the same health question that’s lingered for the Buckeyes all year – that being the status of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who came up limping again on a deep route early in the second quarter after missing four of Ohio State’s first six games of the season with a hamstring injury. Smith-Njigba did not return to the game after that play, though Day suggested after the game that Smith-Njigba could have returned if needed.

“He was on a pitch count today, and then once he got to a certain number there, we decided to shut him down,” Day said.

Hancock makes season debut

In a more positive development on the health front, sophomore cornerback Jordan Hancock saw his first action of the season against Iowa after missing Ohio State’s first six games of the year with an undisclosed injury.

While JK Johnson started the game opposite Denzel Burke in place of Cameron Brown, who missed his third game out of the last four due to injury, Hancock also saw regular playing time in the rotation as the No. 3 cornerback. Day felt Hancock was ready to step right in and play with the first-team defense because of what he saw from Hancock in practice leading up to the game.

“I saw a good week of practice and then made a few plays,” Day said. “He does a really good job of playing the ball, and excited to get that game under his belt so that we can build on that moving forward.”

Like Smith-Njigba, Hancock was on a pitch count for his return to action, according to Knowles. But Knowles was happy with what he saw from Hancock in the snaps he did play.

“We didn't want to get him too many reps as we bring him back, but I think he changes things and just adds to the competition and gives us a lot more depth,” Knowles said. “I think the other guys play a lot freer too when he's around.”

Trayanum plays at running back

After transferring to Ohio State in January to play linebacker, Chip Trayanum was back at the position he used to play at Arizona State on Saturday.

Trayanum warmed up with the running backs before the game and took his first carry as a Buckeye on the final play of the day, gaining nine yards after replacing Dallan Hayden at running back.

Day has not yet addressed whether Trayanum’s move back to offense will be permanent. Trayanum has taken some practice reps at running back since Evan Pryor went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, and TC Caffey – who had been Ohio State’s No. 4 running back for the first half of the season behind TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Hayden – was also unavailable to play against Iowa, so the Buckeyes had a need for more depth at the position.

Trayanum also recorded a key tackle in kickoff coverage against Iowa, stopping a return by Kaleb Johnson at the 13-yard line, setting up Eichenberg’s pick-six on the next play. 

As a backup linebacker, Trayanaum played only 36 defensive snaps in the first half of the season. He also served as Ohio State’s lead kickoff returner for most of the first half of the season, but was replaced in that spot Saturday by Xavier Johnson, though Johnson did not return any of Iowa’s three kickoffs.

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