Ohio State football: 10 takeaways from the 2022 regular season
11-1. For the vast majority of college football programs, an 11-1 season is as welcome as a rain shower in the desert. Particularly for a P5 program, an 11-1 season means a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff. It means a top 5 ranking, a Heisman candidacy, and beating up a good number of quality teams.
And at Ohio State, it means deja vu (all over again).
Last year, 10-2 wasn’t enough for the Buckeyes. The question this year is whether 11-1 will be good enough. For some, it won’t be. The narrative from an injury-riddled season, where Jim Knowles’s defense was outstanding for 11 games, will be that Ohio State didn’t beat Michigan. Again. And that’s unacceptable.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and we’ll take a look back in the interests of pondering the road ahead.
Here are 10 takeaways from Ohio State’s 2022 regular season.
1) Injuries, injuries, injuries
Perhaps no competitive national power has been through a season as rife with nagging injuries as the Buckeyes. The biggest casualty has to be wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. A year ago, Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and 9 touchdowns. With the departures of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba was expected to be the main man in OSU’s receiving corps. An injury, a brief flirtation with a return and then either reinjury or another injury followed. In any case, Smith-Njigba’s 2022 season ended up as 5 catches for 43 yards.
Smith-Njigba was the most jarring injury, but far from the only one. TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, Denzel Burke, Josh Proctor, Mike Hall, Matt Jones, Dawand Jones and Cameron Brown were among the numerous players who missed time and played at less that full strength. It mattered, particularly later in the season, as OSU’s depth was challenged.
2) D was great … for 11 games
Much will be made of Jim Knowles’s defense struggling mightily against Michigan. Allowing 45 points, 530 total yards and 252 rushing yards is not dissimilar to the struggles of Kerry Coombs’s last 2 Buckeyes defenses. But in Knowles’s defense, the defense was generally good, and sometimes outstanding. Heading into Saturday, Ohio State hadn’t allowed more than 31 points, 482 total yards or 206 rushing yards. Had that held up, Ohio State would probably be planning for the Big Ten title game.
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Meanwhile, Knowles’s defense held Notre Dame to 10 points and 253 yards in the opener. It held 6 Big Ten foes to under 300 yards. And while it allowed some big plays to Penn State, it also made enough to win the game. One game should not define a season.
3) Offense lacked some firepower
The biggest takeaway from the Michigan game was that it was the Wolverines who made nearly all the big-gain plays. Ohio State had just 3 20+ yard plays against Michigan, while the Wolverines finished with 6 plays covering 30+ yards. On the season, Ohio State wasn’t as explosive as it was a year ago. Maybe it was the absence of Smith-Njigba, maybe it was the constant revolving door at running back, but OSU’s 76 plays of 20+ yards will likely end up well shy of the 93 such plays the Buckeyes had a year ago.
OSU’s running game was steady, Marvin Harrison filled some of the slack left by Smith-Njigba, and Emeka Egbuka was consistently solid. But a little of the fizzle vs. Michigan was the lack of the big play, particularly once OSU fell behind.
4) Stroud was outstanding
CJ Stroud wasn’t quite as flashy as a year ago, but he will leave Ohio State as one of the most spectacularly consistent players in Buckeyes history. His ability to work through progressions and lead the offense will be hard to replace. The loss to Michigan likely leaves him on the outside of the Heisman winner’s circle, but his 2 seasons in Columbus were outstanding.
5) As noted above, Marvin Harrison emerged — and then some
A year ago, Smith-Njigba emerged as a star. In his absence, Marvin Harrison Jr. did the same in 2022. Harrison finished the regular season with 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who had just 5 catches last year heading into the Rose Bowl. Harrison’s hands were astonishing — he didn’t drop a pass all season, and his smoothness meant that even when he wasn’t open, he could still often make catches.
6) Tommy Eichenberg was the star of the defense
Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg was on fairly uncertain ground leading out of last season. But Eichenberg became the quarterback of the defense, making 112 tackles, a dozen tackles for loss, a pick-6, and 3 more passes broken up. He got stronger as the season progressed, nearly making 100 tackles in Big Ten play alone (93). His blue-collar attitude, even demeanor, and sideline-to-sideline motor will keep Eichenberg as a favorite in Columbus.
7) JT’s big day against Penn State
Among the most memorable moments of the season had to be JT Tuimoloau saving the day against Penn State. The super-talented, but fairly inconsistent defensive lineman put it all together against the Nittany Lions. With Ohio State struggling, JT had 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown. That kind of flash will need to develop into consistent production next year, but for the true sophomore, it was a game to remember.
JT TUIMOLOAU SENDS PENN STATE HOME
🏈2 interceptions (1 TD)
🏈1 tipped pass (OSU INT)
🏈1 FF/FR pic.twitter.com/ORD26vdeJC
— The Silver Bulletin (@tSilverBulletin) October 29, 2022
8) The defense owns Notre Dame
By opening with Notre Dame, Ohio State assured itself a memorable start to the season. With the injury to Smith-Njigba, Ohio State had just 21 points against the Irish. But Jim Knowles’s defense saved the day, limiting Notre Dame to 10 points and 253 yards. Granted, Notre Dame didn’t end up being the 1980s San Francisco 49ers or anything. But it was a memorable debut for a coach who — again, forgetting the last game — seemed to be a pretty good fit.
9) Kamryn Babb’s touchdown
Look, it’s a big-time sport. It’s not an amateur game. It’s a battle for millions. But it’s still capable of meaning more than that. And if Kamryn Babb coming back to catch a touchdown doesn’t touch you in the feels just a little bit, it’s probably time to settle in with 24/7 It’s a Wonderful Life. What a moment.
Kamryn Babb scored his first TD last Saturday, after 4 ACL tears. Perfect example of never giving up 🙏 pic.twitter.com/AyY93nso3m
— Footballism™ (@FootbaIIism) November 19, 2022
10) That loss
Yes, it’s bad. But Ohio State still has a pretty clear path into the College Football Playoff, and could still end up winning the national championship. So temper that disappointment, feel bad for a day, and then remember all of the many, many positives of this season — especially those that will keep the Buckeyes very much in the national title hunt moving ahead.