Ohio State football: 6 surprises that have the Buckeyes at 2-0
Ohio State began the season right where it sits now — in the thick of the CFP picture as one of a handful of favorites for the national title. But even with expected outcomes, the path of the Buckeyes has been at least somewhat surprising. Here are 6 surprises that have led the Buckeyes to their strong start.
1) Defense keeping opponents out of the end zone
Yes, Ohio State knew defensive improvement was needed. After a couple seasons of floundering under Kerry Coombs’s leadership, the expectation was that even if the Buckeyes were average on defense, it might be enough to carry them to the national title. But even the most optimistic Buckeyes fans probably would not have expected new coordinator Jim Knowles’s unit to allow just a single touchdown in the season’s first 2 games. A year ago, the Buckeyes had allowed 10 touchdowns through 2 games. They didn’t allow less than 2 touchdowns in any game. Things have changed.
2) The run-stopping ability of the defense
Not quite as pivotal as keeping offenses out of the end zone — but still deeply impressive and important — has been the defense keeping opponents from running the ball. Granted, Arkansas State didn’t figure to be tough on the ground, but Notre Dame figured to be a physical, running squad.
After 2 weeks, the Buckeyes have allowed just 129 rushing yards and 2.0 per carry. For a defense that was diced for over 250 yards on the ground by 2 of the 4 ranked teams it played last year, holding the Irish to 73 rushing yards certainly played a substantial role in the Buckeyes’ victory.
3) Emergence of Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka
Admittedly, much of the OSU offensive plan probably revolved around using Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and his injury early in the season opener was certainly not a positive surprise. But with Smith-Njigba out, OSU had no receiver with more than a dozen catches or 191 receiving yards in the previous season.
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Two games in, both Harrison (12 catches, 240 yards) and Egbuka (13 catches, 208 yards) have overtaken that level of production. With the high level of play from the rest of the offense, that consistency bodes well for the future of the attack.
4) The excellence of the new interior linemen
With Ohio State cycling in new players up front (and a new OL coach), there was a little concern over the offensive line. Paris Johnson shifted to tackle, and Matthew Jones and Donovan Jackson were both new starters at guard.
Two games in, the new guys have been fine. OSU is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, a slight improvement over last season, and the Buckeyes have only allowed a pair of sacks, just 1 in each game. Notre Dame had 41 sacks a year ago, but the Buckeyes protected CJ Stroud remarkably well in the opener — and also managed 172 yards on the ground. The new guys are playing like they belong.
5) Mike Hall Jr. standing out up front on D
Entering the season, Ohio State’s interior defensive line situation looked pretty solid with returning junior starter Taron Vincent and sophomore Tyleik Williams, who picked up 5 sacks last season off the bench, as well as senior Jerron Cage.
Mike Hall Jr, was stuck behind both on the depth chart … until he wasn’t. A year ago, Hall played in 4 games and had 2 tackles. This season, his tackle total so far equals that of Vincent, Williams and Cage — combined. Hall’s 7 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks demonstrate that the Buckeyes have found another developing defensive line force.
6) Running back balance
TreVeyon Henderson was and is one of the best running backs in the nation. But in a world where one misstep can result in a prolonged absence, the Buckeyes have been careful to balance the workload between Henderson and backup Miyan Williams.
Williiams, who was relatively lightly recruited by OSU standards, stood out with 508 rushing yards and 7.2 per carry a year ago. While Henderson is best on the edge and in the passing game, Williams’s tendency goes more toward working as a battering ram. A year ago, Ohio State split carries among 5 running backs, with each of the 5 having 20 or more carries but only Henderson having more than 71. Williams didn’t play in 3 games, and had 4 or fewer carries in 4 other games.
This season, the Buckeyes are being careful to balance Henderson’s use and Williams’s need to be a functional part of the offense.
Game 1 yielded 15 carries for Henderson and 14 for Williams. Game 2 included 10 carries for Henderson and 8 for Williams. So far, all is going well, with Henderson averaging 7.1 yards per carry and Williams 5.9.
Two well-tuned running backs adds to a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a developing corps of receivers to keep OSU at the top of college football.