Ohio State fans have been waiting for nearly three years to see Jack Sawyer truly dominate a game. In Ohio State’s final home game of the 2023 regular season against Minnesota, that’s exactly what Sawyer did.
The five-star talent from Pickerington, Ohio who was ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class had the best performance of his Ohio State career against the Golden Gophers, recording a team-high six tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, highlighted by a strip sack that led to a JT Tuimoloau fumble recovery early in the third quarter of Ohio State’s 37-3 win.
Sawyer had already been a quiet standout for Ohio State’s defense this season, especially in recent weeks. Going into the Minnesota game, Sawyer was already graded by Pro Football Focus as the second-best edge defender in the Big Ten this season behind Maryland’s Donnell Brown. While Sawyer entered Saturday’s home finale with only 1.5 sacks for the season, he had generated 22 quarterback pressures while consistently setting the edge in the run game.
While Sawyer has embraced his role in Ohio State’s defense as a guy who often does the dirty work, the Minnesota game showed he’s more than capable of taking over a game and putting up big numbers, too.
“Jack's been on a great streak. He's really embraced his role. He's consistent. He understands the scheme. He knows when he can take chances,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “He's been really effective in the running game, which I think sometimes goes unnoticed. But he's just a guy we count on, and he's a stalwart for the defense.
“Jack's always been a great team guy, but I see just a steely-eyed focus. He's a nice young man, he really is, but he's turned into a cold-blooded gentleman, which is what we like.”
Ryan Day said he thinks Sawyer has gotten better every week and that his best play as a Buckeye is still to come.
“He's been playing hard. His attitude’s been great,” Day said. “So yeah, I think he's getting better every week. Good news is his best football is ahead of him. But another guy who just keeps putting time in, man. He just keeps putting days together. He keeps preparing, keeps grinding, just like a bunch of those guys on defense. And that's all. We're counting on to pay off here down the stretch.”
“He's a nice young man, he really is, but he's turned into a cold-blooded gentleman, which is what we like.”– Jim Knowles on Jack Sawyer
Sawyer, who had never had more than two tackles for loss in a game before the Minnesota game, said it felt good to have so much production against the Gophers. But he felt his production wasn’t just indicative of his own improvement but of how the entire Ohio State defense has improved this season.
“The way we're playing, our mentality right now, everybody's just playing downhill and being the aggressors on the defensive side of the ball,” Sawyer said. “Coach Knowles always says, we dictate what happens. Anything that happens, we either let happen or we did it. So it's really just a mentality, and I think that's allowing all of us to play faster and play more confident.”
He said he didn’t give any thought to whether the Minnesota game was the best game of his Ohio State career because he tries to play as well as he can every week.
“I don't really try to think about that stuff, honestly. I just try to go out there and play as hard as I can, use the skill set that God's blessed me with,” Sawyer said. “And come up for air after the games. So I think really, I'm just happy with the win and I'm just happy that we're building in the right direction going into this week.”
Sawyer led the way for Ohio State’s defense to hold its opponent to only three points for the second game in a row, with Minnesota’s three points coming in the fourth quarter after Sawyer and the rest of the Buckeyes’ starters had checked out of the game. Collectively, Ohio State’s defense has now held its opponents to just 9.3 points per game and 252.8 yards per game, having held both of its last two opponents under 200 yards.
But the Buckeyes know they’re about to face their biggest challenge of the year when they head up north to play Michigan in The Game next week. So while Sawyer has reason to celebrate how well he played on Saturday, he knows he can’t relish in it for long as the Buckeyes will need him to be at his best one again next week.
“Nothing really matters up to this point. All the focus goes to next week,” Sawyer said.