Skull Session: Silver Bullets Can Be ”The Best Defense in the Country” in 2024, Seven Buckeyes Appear in CBS Sports' Top 100 Players and C.J. Stroud Endorses Marvin Harrison Jr.

By Chase Brown on April 17, 2024 at 5:00 am
Caleb Downs

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Well, do ya?

Have a good Wednesday.

 “THIS TEAM WILL BE REALLY GOOD.” On Saturday, FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt roamed Ohio Stadium with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, wide receivers coach Brian Hartline and more as Team Scarlet defeated Team Gray, 34-33, in the scrimmage.

Around 48 hours later, Klatt recorded “The Joel Klatt Show” for Fox Sports’ YouTube. In the episode, he shared his first impressions of the 2024 Buckeyes.

“This team will be really good,” he said. “I’d be shocked if this team is not one or two in the preseason poll.”

Over the next 10 minutes, Klatt offered an in-depth breakdown of wide receiver Jeremiah Smith and Ohio State’s defense, quarterbacks and offensive line.

On Jeremiah Smith

“There is some serious buzz — and I know Brian Hartline will not be happy about me saying this — but there is some serious buzz around Jeremiah Smith. … Being around him, seeing him in person and watching him play, he’s the real deal. He will be one of the better players in college football. Not just one of the better freshmen, but one of the better players in college football. I genuinely believe he is one of the most rare talents at that age in a long time.”

On Ohio State’s defense

“That defense will be as good as any defense in the country. I would be surprised if they’re not the best defense in the country. They brought almost everybody back, and then they added Caleb Downs. It’s like, ‘Wow. OK.’ … They will be fantastic on the backend in the secondary. Lathan Ransom didn’t even play on Saturday. They have great corners. They have Caleb Downs. They have Ransom. There was nowhere to throw the football on that secondary. And even the depth they had with some of their younger guys was pretty incredible. I think Ohio State has the potential to be the best defense in the country.”

On Ohio State’s quarterback battle

“You have Will Howard and Devin Brown that are legitimately — I would say right now — competing for that starter spot. Will Howard got the first snaps (in the spring game). … They will be driving a car that nobody else is driving, whoever takes the snaps. Whether it’s Will Howard or Devin Brown, they will have, I would expect, a run game that features the two best backs in college football in TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins. Those two guys will be a problem for defenses. … Then you get to the wide receiver corps, and they are as deep and as good a wide receiver corps as there is in college football. Emeka Egbuka is back. Carnell Tate is back. Jayden Ballard is back. And then you have who could be the best of them all in Jeremiah Smith as a true freshman. And they have other guys like Brandon Inniss. … Whoever the quarterback is, just keep it on the rails. I don’t think they will need spectacular quarterback play to play elite-level offense.”

On Ohio State’s offensive line

“My concern for them is not at quarterback. It’s on the offensive line. I think they could suffer some growing pains early with their offensive line. That’s why I am interested to see what Chip Kelly does with the run game. He’s been able to run the football with less-than-dominant offensive fronts basically his whole career. If he’s able to do that and protect the quarterback with all the skill around them — in particular, in the running back room — then this offense will have a real shot.”

I think it’s significant that Klatt said Howard and Brown are “legitimately” competing for the starting quarterback spot. That’s coming from someone who had unprecedented access to Day for two hours during the spring game and, if I had to guess, spent a few more hours picking the head coach’s brain at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last week. As such, he wouldn’t throw out such a strong word unless the statement had some truth to it.

I also find it noteworthy how impressed Klatt was with Smith. He said Smith may not only be one of the best freshmen in college football this season but also one of the best overall players. That’s insane. Later, he said Smith may be the best player in Ohio State’s stacked receiver room – yes, even better than Egbuka, Tate and Inniss. That’s not as insane, but it’s still insane.

 ALL THE TALENT IN THE WORLD. This week, Blake Brockermeyer of CBS Sports ranked the top 100 college football players entering the 2024 season. Seven of those players were Buckeyes: Quinshon Judkins, Caleb Downs, Jack Sawyer, Emeka Egbuka, TreVeyon Henderson, Denzel Burke and Seth McLaughlin.

Here is where Brockermeyer – a former All-American at Texas and nine-year pro with the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos – ranked those Ohio State players and what he wrote about each Buckeye:

No. 12 - Quinshon Judkins

Judkins was Ole Miss's most critical piece of an explosive offense and figures to be the bell cow for another loaded offense in Columbus. Sources I've talked to say he is turning heads early and often as he is not only a nice blend of speed and power but is also being used in the passing game.

No. 19 - Caleb Downs

Alabama's loss is Ohio State's gain. Downs was a rare true freshman starter from the day he stepped on campus for the Crimson Tide and is already considered one of the best players in college football. Downs is not only an excellent all-around player both in coverage and in the box in run support, but plays with ultra-high intelligence. Downs will make an instant impact on a loaded Ohio State defense and figures to make an even bigger jump after a year of starting.

No. 38 - Jack Sawyer

Sawyer had his best season as a pass rusher in 2023, racking up eight sacks and 38 pressures, but is better against the run. Sawyer has great play recognition and excellent motor; you rarely see him take a play off. He's a real difference-maker in the run game, and Ohio State is thrilled the former 5-star stayed true to his word and returned to school, even after a three-sack performance in the Cotton Bowl.

No. 39 - Emeka Egbuka

This guy would be WR1 on 99.9% of teams but Ohio State keeps bringing in the top talent in the country that takes away some of his touches. We figured Egbuka would finally get to be WR1 this fall, but the early returns on No. 1 recruit Jeremiah Smith have been so terrific that perhaps he'll nab this spot by fall camp. Anyway, back to Egbuka: He's versatile enough to play anywhere on the field, is an excellent route-runner and causes damage in the open field despite lacking elite speed.

No. 51 - TreVeyon Henderson

When healthy, he's a problem for opposing defenses. TreVeyon Henderson is a fluid back with great vision and amazing speed that makes him a home-run hitter as both a runner and a receiver. We never thought he'd be somebody's RB2 in college football, but the timeshare with portal addition Quinshon Judkins should do wonders for his durability. This will be one of the best thunder-and-lightning combinations we've seen in recent memory.

No. 81 - Denzel Burke

I'm not sure if Denzel Burke is a superstar, which is where he looked to be headed after his freshman campaign, but he put together a bounce-back junior season. He's a nice piece on a really stingy Ohio State defense that plays well together as a unit. Burke had one interception and defended 10 passes, with nine passes broken up for the Buckeyes. He can give up too much cushion at times and needs to be more of a playmaker on their backend. Better in zone coverage than man.

No. 92 - Seth McLaughlin

McLaughlin was an excellent blocker over the last few seasons at Alabama but decided a change of scenery was best for him after having some snapping issues with Jalen Milroe. McLaughlin plays with a high IQ and does a nice job sorting through the protections to get everyone on the same page. Excellent in both run and pass protection.

I could address several different things about this list that irk me – Henderson at No. 51? Burke at No. 81? The absence of Donovan Jackson, JT Tuimoloau and Tyleik Williams? – but I will keep the response simple and sweet.

Ohio State will be one of the best teams in America this fall because it will have one of the best rosters in America this fall.

Yet, talent has never been Ohio State’s issue when it comes to winning it all under Ryan Day. Instead, it’s the no-talent issues that have been a thorn in the Buckeyes’ side. That’s why I have been so glad to hear Day talk about that side of the game being an area of emphasis for the program this offseason.

“For as much talent as we have, it will be the no-talent issues that help us win and reach our goals,” Day said in March. “That’s been the focus now. Once we get on the field, that’s what we focus on. It’s not seeing Jeremiah (Smith) run a go-ball. That’s great, but it’s the discipline of knowing what to do. It’s the focus. It’s running to the ball. It’s effort. It’s energy. It’s all the things that take no talent. That has to be our focus.”

 “DON’T BE DUMB.” In an offseason press conference with Houston Texans beat reporters, former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud explained why Marvin Harrison Jr. should be the first wide receiver off the board in the 2024 NFL draft.

“Put on the tape,” Stroud said.

But he didn’t stop there.

“He’s done it from his freshman year to now. I think I read something like, ‘He’s NFL-ready, but other guys have more potential.’ That makes no sense. Like, what? If you’re NFL-ready, how is that not potential? You want longevity. You want somebody who’s been doing it. For him, that’s what he sleeps, eats and breathes. He’s a worldly talent, but it’s also his work ethic and how he gravitates that room. I challenged him (in 2022) when Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) went down — he had to take over as a leader, and he did that. He’s not really vocal, but he became vocal. You could see his personality come out as he started to play more. I would love to play with him again, but I know I probably won’t get that opportunity for a while. I am super proud of him. (Whatever team) is up there, be smart. Don’t be dumb. Don’t think too hard.”

Yeah, what he said!

In three seasons at Ohio State, Harrison became a two-time unanimous All-American, a Biletnikoff Award winner and a Heisman Trophy finalist. He was also a two-time Big Ten Receiver of the Year and one-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. 

The only Buckeye pass-catcher to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons, Harrison ranks sixth in school history in receptions (155), sixth in receiving yards (2,613) and third in touchdown catches (31).

 “YOU GOT BBQ BACK THERE?” Countless former Buckeyes attended Ohio State’s spring game over the weekend. OK, maybe not countless. Like, seven. Jeff Okudah, Denzel Ward, Ezekiel Elliott, Paris Johnson Jr., Wyatt Davis, Raekwon McMillen and Baron Browning.

On FOX’s broadcast of the game, “The All-American Girl” Jenny Taft interviewed Okudah and Ward. She asked both to share what Ohio State has meant to their professional football careers – Okudah with the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, and Ward with the Cleveland Browns.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Okudah said. “Every day at practice, I went against the best receivers in the country. I think it really translates to Saturdays (and Sundays). … I got to go up against Garrett Wilson, Terry McLaurin and Chris Olave. Those are the receivers you see on Sunday. I got the chance to compete against them every single day in practice.”

Ward echoed Okudah’s sentiments. Then, the three-time Pro Bowler shared how impressed he was with Ohio State’s defense in the spring game, predicting the Buckeyes will have one of the best defenses in college football this fall.

“They’ve been looking good,” Ward said. “They’ve picked it up the past couple of seasons. The coaches have said, like, they kind of started off slow (under Jim Knowles), but now they’re looking good and looking like they will be the number one defense this season.”

Later in the broadcast, Joel Klatt interviewed Okudah and Ward. The trio discussed Ward’s massive hit in the 2017 Maryland game which led to Gus Johnson’s now-famous lines, “YOU GOT BBQ BACK THERE?”

An iconic call for an iconic hit.


 SONG OF THE DAY. “Lovefool” - The Cardigans.

 CUT TO THE CHASE. A 9-year-old boy’s dream of a pet octopus is a sensation as thousands follow Terrance’s story online... What a killer Winnie the Pooh can tell us about the public domain and remix culture...NASA is seeking a faster and cheaper way to bring Mars samples to Earth... NASA: Space junk that crashed through Florida home came from ISS... What are sidewalks like in your Columbus neighborhood? Share your thoughts.

View 41 Comments