Skull Session: Xavier Johnson Can Do It All, Lathan Ransom is Making His Case For the Jim Thorpe Award and Terry McLaurin's Path to the NFL Was Different

By Chase Brown on November 15, 2022 at 5:00 am
Xavier Johnson

Hello, all.

If you haven't watched already, please take a moment to watch this video. It will be the best thing you see all day. Guaranteed.

Let's have a good Tuesday, shall we?

 HIT 'EM WITH THE X. Xavier Johnson is the Swiss Army knife of The Ohio State University football team. Need a wide receiver? Xavier. Need a kick and punt returner? Xavier. Need a running back? Xavier.

He really can do it all.

Johnson proved that once again on Indiana, catching two passes for 47 yards, including a swing pass he grabbed out of the backfield that resulted in 34 yards and put the Ohio State offense deep within Indiana territory.

(The Buckeyes should have been running this play with TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams all season, but that's a story for another time. Glad to see it finally happened on Saturday.)

But that wasn't all Johnson did for Ohio State against Indiana. On his lone carry of the game, the former walk-on from Cincinnati diced through the Hoosier defense for 71 yards and a touchdown. The Big Ten labeled it the conference's play of the week on Sunday.

To be clear, Johnson made the play with his legs, and he deserves plenty of praise for the long touchdown run. However, he's not the only reason the play was successful. A few Buckeye Leaves should also go to Julian Fleming and Marvin Harrison Jr. for their blocks down the field that created lanes for Johnson to take his carry to the crib.

While it's pretty easy to see the impact of Harrison's block because it was both menacing and in the middle of the screen, Fleming's block was equally important to the run. He kept his hands close to his chest and drove his defender out of bounds, combining with Harrison to take the Hoosiers' third-level defenders out of the play. It was textbook blocking for Fleming – something the Buckeyes consistently practice with drills like this:

Perfect, A+ grades for Harrison and Fleming and an A++ for Johnson, who continues to prove he can be a valuable weapon for the Ohio State offense when needed.

 PAY THE RANSOM. Lathan Ransom has his best game as a Buckeye on Saturday with nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one punt block. Soooooooo, can we hand him the Jim Thorpe Award already?

OK – I won't get ahead of myself.

Perhaps he will be alright with Ohio State's defensive and special teams player of the game and the Eleven Warriors defensive player of the week. That should be enough accolades for his performance against Indiana. We'll get to the Jim Thorpe eventually.

 SCARY TERRY. Terry McLaurin's path from four-time Indiana state champion, to clawing for snaps and catches at Ohio State to one of the best and highest-paid receivers in the NFL has been quite the journey – one McLaurin argues is wholly unique.

In an interview with ESPN staff writer John Keim, McLaurin fought back tears describing what it meant to be where he is today.

"If you're blessed to be in a situation to get a second contract, you know what that means for yourself, your future and your family. That part of it was awesome," McLaurin said when reflecting on his growth, a tear rolling down his cheek. "My journey was just different."

McLaurin's journey was different, but it wasn't all that unexpected when looking back. At least not to Curtis Samuel, McLaurin's teammate at Ohio State and now on the Washington Commanders.

From Keim's article:

Teammate Curtis Samuel said when they roomed together at Ohio State, he saw McLaurin's competitiveness.

"After practice this man is still working," Samuel said. "I'm talking on days we got off I wake up and say, 'Terry, what are you about to go do?' He'd say, 'I'm about to go to the facility, go run some routes, catch some passes.' Where he's at today is all because of that."

That work has put McLaurin in the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, along with players like Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase.

While he might not be as fast as Hill, as polished a route runner as Kupp or as explosive as Diggs and Adams, McLaurin is talented in his own right. That talent stems from his desire to win, his intense focus on minute details and his emotional attachment to the game of football. Those characteristics and more have shaped him into the player he is today.

To reach this point, he endured: having to convince Urban Meyer he was worthy of a scholarship to Ohio State, redshirting his freshman year, catching no passes his first season playing and 11 in his second, having people doubt he could play well for the Buckeyes, finishing fourth on the team in receptions in his last season, seeing his peers receive more rewards from their work, getting drafted in the third round as a special teams player and solid backup.

"A lot of those times are discouraging," McLaurin said. "You see your peers who went off to the NFL; you put in the same work but the results aren't happening for you in the timing you think they should happen."

Former Washington coach Jay Gruden said they believed he could be a dynamic receiver, having scouted him at the Senior Bowl.

But McLaurin said he does feel his natural talent gets overlooked at times.

"Because I've worked so hard, a lot of people don't give me my flowers on the God-given athletic ability," he said. "I've been touched by God to have this ability to run fast, jump high, be extremely strong, really smart, leadership. A lot of things you can't quite coach and teach, but it comes out naturally because it's who I am. It's not a façade. ... I'm not the flashiest player, you can't look at me and say, 'Wow, he does X well.' I pride myself on being a complete receiver."


Samuel said, "When he first got to the league they said he was a special teams guy. That's crazy. I'd seen this guy work his butt off every day. He's a receiver. I've always said he's a No. 1 receiver."

It just took a minute for it to happen.

"His journey was different," Samuel said. "But the journey he's had has made him the man he is today. It's all about timing."

Sometimes the only thing that matters is timing. I'm happy it worked out for McLaurin in the way it did – the different journey and all. It feels like he'll be around for a while in the league because of it, which makes it all worth it. I could talk about his brilliance non-stop. Keep bein' scary, Terry.

 CFP X-FACTOR. The Ohio State running back room is incredibly thin as the Buckeyes approach their final two regular-season matchups against Maryland and Michigan.

TreVeyon Henderson has missed the last two games with a foot injury, while Miyan Williams has been banged-up several times during the year with different ailments. With Ohio State's two starters on the mend, Evan Pryor out for the year and Chip Trayanum dealing with an undisclosed injury, the Buckeyes turned to Dallan Hayden and – as mentioned above – Johnson to carry the football against Indiana on Saturday.

Like Johnson, Hayden proved he can be a weapon for the offense when needed.

Moving forward, Ryan Day and Tony Alford may have to utilize that duo more than they were expecting in the season's final stretch. Knowing this, FOX college football writer Bryan Fischer labeled Hayden as an X-factor for Ohio State as it attempts to return to the College Football Playoff for the first time in two years.

Here is what Fischer had to say about Hayden:

The Buckeyes found the end zone eight times against an overmatched Indiana on Saturday, but one of the more noteworthy touchdowns came from 14 yards out on a speedy scamper from a backup tailback. Only that backup — Hayden — is no longer the backup. Instead, he is the lone healthy rushing threat for OSU. Miyan Williams exited against the Hoosiers on crutches with a right leg injury, and TreVeyon Henderson remains in a walking boot until further notice.

Even if both were to return, the backfield is awfully thin as is. That puts even more on the shoulders of the true freshman as the schedule takes Ohio State to its most important games of the year. The former four-star has shown flashes when given carries so far, but he’ll see the workload increase significantly moving forward. Not only that, he’ll have to grind out yards against several pretty good defenses if the Buckeyes are to remain undefeated.

As much as the passing game with C.J. Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr. get all the press, the team still needs some balance on offense, and it may be solely up to Hayden to provide it moving forward.

Despite a small sample size, Hayden has proven he can be a weapon for the Ohio State offense. The Memphis native has topped the century mark twice in 2022, including a 17-carry, 108-yard performance against Toledo in Week 3 and a 19-carry, 102-yard against Indiana on Saturday. He scored a touchdown in both of those games.

This season, Hayden has rushed the ball 73 times for 357 yards and two touchdowns in seven games. His 4.9 yards per carry should provide enough confidence that he can perform when called upon. And with how the Ohio State running back room looks right now, he will be called upon.

Next man up. Let's see if Hayden can get the job done.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John.

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