Memory Thief

By Ramzy Nasrallah on February 28, 2024 at 1:15 pm
Nov 11, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Jack Sawyer (33) looks on before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

How valuable is Jack Sawyer to the 2024 Ohio State Buckeyes?

That's a loaded and ambiguous question. Are we asking in reference to when he was Ohio's top 2022 prospect while committed to the Buckeyes for two full years - without wavering - before signing? He helped recruit J.T. Tuimoloau? Is that valuable?

Love those guys. Need more of them. Immensely valuable. Final answer.

Or wait - do we mean his performance in football games over the past three seasons? Don't answer yet, there's more - what about Sawyer's decision to return for his senior year, the first in an unprecedented cavalcade of reverse-NFL declarations which he may possibly have played a pivotal role in influencing?

Here's what I think: Holistically, Sawyer is the program's most valuable player. I believe he'll be a captain and the 2024 Block O recipient. He was and is now everything you want from an Ohio State Buckeye.

This is where I have Sawyer ranked on the current roster. No one above him.

fist ballot 2024 buckeye 20

That image is a partial screenshot of my 11W Slack direct message to Deputy Editor Dan Hope for the upcoming first installment of the 2024 Buckeye 20. Dan compiles our submissions, averages the rankings and then publishes them as a series.

A year ago Sawyer debuted at no.12 in this poll, once Dan did all the math. He was no.20 on my ballot. When I saw where he landed I laughed and thought, wishful thinking. Our writers, man.

Yeah. What follows here is a journey in which I tell on myself. Slack keeps all of our receipts for us - it is a far more precise exercise to re-read the 11W #gameday channel where the team diagnoses Ohio State sporting events in real time than it is to try and remember what happened months later.

This allows us to accurately portray what happened without the threat of revisionist history. I knew Sawyer was a weight room junkie before he got to Ohio State. I also knew Mickey Marotti had him gain weight and then lose weight while the defensive staff tried to figure out what to do with him.

Sawyer got on the field for 34 snaps against northwestern, giving him 248 for the 2022 season. I could not remember any of them.

So my low ranking for Sawyer in the Buckeye 20 was less about him being a bust and far more about the staff not having a set position for him, which has been a recurring issue with offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers who could be safeties and safeties who might be linebackers.

But also, the mythical Jack position (which refers to a role that may or may not exist and is generally called the Leo at other programs - including at Ohio State pre-Jim Knowles - but can also refer to one-time Jack Jack Sawyer). Got it?

That was then. Now I have him ahead of everyone on the roster, which made me curious enough to check my own receipts and see what my evolution from Sawyer Doubter to Sawyer Fan Club President looked like from the inside.

Here's the first time I ever mentioned his name during a game in the #gameday channel.

ramzy and chris don't think jack is very good

Apologies to Chris catching a stray there - that exchange took place during the 2nd half of a game you'll never watch twice, the Buckeyes' 21-7 win over Northwestern in their final appearance at Ryan Field in 2022.

It occurred to me that 1.5 seasons into his tenure - or four years into the hype which began during his Pickerington North days - I could not recall a single signature game or play to his credit. Sawyer got on the field for 34 snaps in Evanston, giving him 248 for the season.

I remembered none of them. A week later, he did something.

sawyer eating hoosiers

This wasn't sarcasm. It was a legitimate Kyle Rowland-grade wowSawyer flashed.

It happened in what will forever be known as The Kamryn Babb Game against the Indiana Hoosiers. He was making life incredibly difficult for IU's right tackle in the 2nd quarter during a half where the visitors' offense was impotent outside of a couple of busts in the OSU secondary. Busts? In the 2022 defense? Eh, probably nothing to worry about.

But wait, Jack was not done yet!

still not the jack sawyer game

My issue. The Tuimoloau Game™ was at Penn State. The JSN Game™ was the 2022 Rose Bowl - you know how this goes; a guy who wants to be A Guy has to have His Game. This wasn't it, yet.

But Sawyer was...almost killing it? Perhaps he was turning the corner after years of role and weight room chaos he never asked for but embraced because the program demanded it. Position switches, bulking, cutting, learning one scheme and then figuring out another. I was poised to buy Jack Sawyer stock.

It would be the last time I mentioned him during the 2022 season in #gameday - or any part of 11W Slack. Sawyer registered four tackles at Maryland the following week before getting on the field for just 15 snaps against Michigan. He got on the field 16 times in the Peach Bowl. This coincided with Zach Harrison cresting to end his college career.

Outside of my Buckeye 20 ballot, I didn't mention Sawyer again until the 2023 Youngstown State game.

we're talkin bout penguins, man

I ended up getting passive-aggressive writing cryptically about it the following week:

When two seconds separate an offense from a delay of game penalty, danger comes quickly. Milking the play clock has consequences. The snap count loses its mystery.

And yet the Buckeyes still have a 5-star defensive end who is consistently the last guy on the field to get out of his stance after the ball is snapped.

Kyle dropped the forensics in his Film Study following the game. He's an attention-to-detail guy.

And so did Pro Football Focus, which gave Sawyer his-then highest career grading. Pass rush - or lack thereof - was materializing as a talking point for this defense. We hashed it out amongst ourselves.

sawyer almost turning the corner

He flashed! Against an FCS opponent for whom he could have started as a 10th grader! Don't dwell on that Farmer Olé quip - it's still February. We'll get to the TE room when it gets warmer.

By the time the Buckeyes visited West Lafayette, Sawyer was back to not flashing in games against FBS opponents, while still struggling to get out of his stance in a respectable amount of time. It was starting to look bleak, at least from the vantage point of a guy who blamed position switches and a tossed strength/conditioning program salad.

The appearance of a realization began to set in when a defense which has consistently failed to address load management by playing starters well into games where they're unneeded began subbing in the depth behind Sawyer.

kenyatta szn

This wasn't a realization as much as a temporary experiment. Setting aside the Sawyer journey, Ohio State has got to start playing its depth more, especially with designs on a 16-game season coming up this fall. The Buckeyes looked fatigued in both of their most recent 2nd halves, which if you'll remember (don't try too hard) both ended quite badly.

The one guy who didn't look fatigued in either of those terrible games is the muse for this column. We'll get to the exciting conclusion of 2024 Ohio State MVP Jack Sawyer. But first we've got to get out of West Lafayette without the ghost of Rondale Moore violating the program.

The football players of this era aren't allowed to make mistakes, because every single play is subject to becoming a GIF or a TikTok or an Instagram Story that runs on a loop and manufactures a legacy. Josh and I were watching Jack Statue at the line of scrimmage way too many times.

Minnesota ranked 18th  nationally in preventing tFLs. The Gophers would have finished 2023 ranked 10th if not for the night jack sawyer had them in hell.

Sawyer was still taking way too much time to get out of his stance, getting caught up in the muck - and almost accidentally stumbling into making a great play in between stretches of erasing himself.

This was the sixth game of his junior season. I almost knew what Jack Sawyer does. I was very close to going pencils-down on my assessment, because all of the Saturdays began to look the same.

The epitaph would describe Sawyer as a beastly, high-ceiling, long-runway football player the rest of the roster admired and looked up to. A guy everyone was thrilled to have in the locker room and in practice. Five-star person more than a five-star player. A Curtis Grant circa 2014 for the current generation. Glue guy. Team guy. Mentor. Gentleman.

Penn State was Game Seven. Watch the Rushmen, left DE. Every Saturday looked the saaaaaame.

33 is the last guy out of his stance
Prior State: Tuimoloau is two yards into the Penn State backfield before Sawyer gets out of his stance.

Pencils down. This is who he would always be. Who knows what he could do with an average get-off and another year of recognition and development from his ideal position and not some imaginary one? Who knows.

But then the Buckeyes visited Madison.

still cannot believe the parker fleming era happened

The version of this article about Parker Fleming's 11W Slack appearances will go unpublished. That man has a family, and he deserves a line of work where he can flourish, thrive and develop as far away from a football field as this humble planet's land masses permit.

Ohio State's tragic special teams were their usual selves that night, but something happened to Sawyer on Halloween weekend and for the balance of the 2023 season, it didn't un-happen. The guy who couldn’t get out of his stance was suddenly everywhere, doing everything, all the time, snap after snap and drive after drive.

Pencils-up. The epitaph is premature. This monster has been activated, and goddamn he's unblockable.

We were treated to The Jack Sawyer Game™ on November 18, 2023 when for just short of four hours he was the de facto governor of Minnesota. The Gophers' offense ranked 18th in the country for preventing tackles for loss. They would have finished 10th if not for the night no.33 had them in hell.

And while the game didn't go the way Ohio State wanted to, Sawyer was a problem in Ann Arbor.

the unblockable jack sawyer

Don't mistake this Michigan in-game exchange as officiating grievances - we've all written extensively about how and why Ohio State lost this game again. Appreciate it for the accurate portrayal of what happened without the threat of revisionist history. Sawyer delivered a winning performance.

He did it again in Arlington, when the Buckeyes lost their first game in the state of Texas in program history while Sawyer tied the program record for sacks in a bowl game. He ended the 2023 season at no.5 in our Buckeye 20.

Four months earlier, I believed ranking him no.12 was too high. Today, no.5 is too low.

Everything is possible when gifted, motivated and buoyant college kids are put in the best possible position to be the best possible versions of themselves. I cannot place the last time I was this bullish on a rising senior in Columbus, but if pressed I would say Troy Smith 18 years ago and Eddie George three decades ago. 

It is going to be a treat watching Sawyer take over games and #gameday this season. He has finally become That Guy, however long and circuitous of a path he took. There's no reason to believe his trajectory to end 2023 was a glitch. Pencils down.

I have seen enough of Sawyer. And I can't wait to see more.

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