5 ways Ohio State will be better in 2023, 5 ways the Buckeyes will be worse
A theme emerges when looking at the better and worse lists for an Ohio State team expected to once again challenge for the Big Ten and national championships.
Most of the better things should be on defense, which would be a welcome and needed sight for the Buckeyes. Most of the worse things should be offense-related. But that idea is deceiving. The Buckeyes might not be quite as good in some offensive areas, but they still expect to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the country.
Better: Pass rush
The Buckeyes sacked quarterbacks 34 times last year. For a defense trying to win a national championship, being No. 32 in the nation in that game-changing stat won’t cut it. In 2021 the Bucks had 36 sacks and ranked No. 34. This year’s front four is as experienced as the unit has been since leading the nation with 54 sacks in 2019.
Will the Buckeyes play like 2019, when Chase Young had 16.5 sacks and was a Heisman finalist? That’s a lofty goal, but with JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer at the ends, Mike Hall and Ty Hamilton inside and plenty of depth, the pass rush should be much improved. Sawyer and Hall were last year’s leaders with 4.5 sacks apiece.
Better: Secondary support
The back end of the defense has been thin on experience the past couple years. This year, though, a deep and more experienced group could be the support the men up front need to get to the quarterback more often.
Denzel Burke is in his 3rd year at cornerback and Lathan Ransom is back for a 2nd year at safety. They are supported by experience in transfers Ja’Had Carter (Syracuse) and Davison Igbinosun (Ole Miss). Jordan Hancock is back at corner after injuries slowed him last year. And Sonny Styles, the 5-star sophomore who reclassified and was a 17-year-old last year, will play a lot and make big plays.
Better: Limiting big plays
Two straight losses to Michigan and Georgia’s Playoff comeback last year are all you need to know. The defense in each game went from a bend-don’t-break-too-often identity to a getting-torched identity and lost those 3 games.
With more experience on the line and secondary and returning starters Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers at linebacker, it’s difficult to imagine the defense not being a lot better in these situations in Jim Knowles’ 2nd season as defensive coordinator.
Better: Running back depth
Nagging and off-and-on injuries to TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams tested the depth last year. The Buckeyes were forced to turn to true freshman Dallan Hayden and former linebacker Chip Trayanum more than they expected.
This year running backs coach Tony Alford has more ballcarriers than he can find work for. Henderson and Williams are healthy and the clear 1 and 2. The next 3 spots are up for grabs. Joining Hayden and Trayanum in that battle is Evan Pryor. He was expected to be a factor last year until a knee injury in camp ended his season.
Better: Wide receiver experience
Can the Buckeyes be better this season than they’ve been in recent seasons? Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming were as good as it gets in 2022. If being a year older makes this group better, then they will be better no matter who plays quarterback.
Worse: Quarterback play
If Kyle McCord or Devin Brown finishes 4th in the Heisman voting, QB play will be worse because CJ Stroud was 3rd last year. QB play could be a major strength, and likely will be, but to be as good as Stroud from start to finish is unlikely.
Last year the Buckeyes played 7 home games with a trip to Penn State the only road game to fear. This year: 6 home games and road games at Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Worse: Offensive line play
The new quarterback will be depending on a new center and new tackles, and none of those 3 starters has been named. Maybe this is only an early-season concern, but this group will need to jell by the Week 4 trip to Notre Dame.
Worse: 3rd- and 4th-down efficiency
The running backs and receivers won’t be to blame here if the Bucks dip a little in these situations. A new quarterback and new tackles, at least in the early season and against the league’s best defenses, will test the play-calling.
Worse: Winning the odds game
Most seasons you can say the Buckeyes will be favored in every game they play through the Big Ten title game. But they are already a slight underdog to Michigan. If they struggle at all in their first 3 games, the expectations for the primetime game at Notre Dame will shrink.