Ohio State is built to survive without TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba
In the preseason, it was more or less accepted as fact that quarterback CJ Stroud, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson were the best 3 players on Ohio State’s offense — and thereby the entire roster.
Some — well, me — even would have classified them as the top trio in the entire Big Ten.
So, if you were to tell someone in August that the Buckeyes would make the College Football Playoff but would have to win the CFP without 2 of those 3 players available, that August person probably would not give Ohio State much chance of advancing.
But August was an age of innocence and naiveté. The realities of fall have shown us that the Buckeyes will be just fine without Smith-Njigba and Henderson in the CFP.
While it would obviously be preferable to have either or both playing against Georgia, their replacements have proven worthy of testing the Bulldogs.
Marvin Harrison Jr.: The nation’s most well-rounded receiver
Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt was the most explosive receiver in college football this season, and thanks to those jets he beat out Marvin Harrison Jr. for the Biletnikoff Award.
But Harrison was the nation’s most well-rounded receiver — a downfield threat who is also capable of going over the middle or making impossible catches along the sideline.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 26, 2022
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Marvin Harrison Jr. faces Indiana, Marvin Harrison Jr. makes a jaw-dropping play. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/ZhLPTvxDcI
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 12, 2022
With a name like Marvin Harrison Jr., he obviously didn’t come out of nowhere. His dad is a Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver.
But prior to last season’s Rose Bowl, Harrison Jr. only had 5 catches for 68 yards. With 6 catches for 71 yards and 3 touchdowns in Pasadena, he showed that he could be Smith-Njigba’s top running mate in 2022.
Instead, Harrison ended up at the top of the ticket. Smith-Njigba pulled a hamstring in the season opener, and his 2 attempts to come back from it fizzled quickly.
Harrison recorded a pair of 3-touchdown performances on his way to 12 TDs and finished 2nd in the B1G with 1,157 receiving yards.
Harrison’s penchant for moving the chains is almost unreal.
Of his 72 receptions, 55 resulted in first downs — a whopping 76.3%. The only 3 receivers in the country with more first-down catches than Harrison — Houston’s Nathaniel Dell (62), Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson (61) and Purdue’s Charlie Jones (59) — all had at least 100 receptions.
Harrison has 16 third-down receptions this year, of which 15 have resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
Replacing Smith-Njigba’s 1,606 receiving yards from a year ago is nearly an impossible task. But Harrison has done as well as anyone could ask. And he hasn’t done it alone.
Emeka Egbuka: The other 1,000-yard man
Thanks to fellow sophomore Emeka Egbuka, the Buckeyes have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers for the second straight season. And perhaps the biggest testament to Ryan Day and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline is the fact it’s an entirely different duo this season.
Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson were Ohio State’s 1K men last year, with Chris Olave narrowly missing the mark at 936 yards. Egbuka (191 yards) and Harrison (139 yards) were afterthoughts in that loaded receiver room before breaking out this year.
Egbuka is actually the greater downfield threat, with 15 receptions of 25 yards or more to Harrison’s 12. And much like Harrison, he gets the job done on third down. Of Egbuka’s 18 third-down receptions, 6 have gone for more than 25 yards and 5 have resulted in touchdowns.
Flyin’ with Miyan
Redshirt sophomore Miyan Williams has stepped up in a season in which Henderson frequently battled a foot injury that finally shelved him for the postseason.
The 5-9, 225-pound Williams is built somewhat like a bowling ball, but he can take off more like a cannonball. Williams is 5th nationally with 6.7 yards per carry, and 6th in the B1G with 26 carries of 10 yards or more.
Williams’ performance against Rutgers was a testament to him as a complete back.
As you’d expect for someone with his bulk, Williams is an ideal weapon near the goal line. Against the Scarlet Knights, he scored 4 touchdowns of 2 yards or less. But he also scored a 5th touchdown on a 70-yard run.
Granted, no one is running into a Rutgers-caliber defense in the College Football Playoff. And against the only ranked opponents Ohio State faced this season, Williams didn’t get many touches. He had 2 carries for 9 yards against Penn State and 8 carries for 34 yards against Michigan. Williams was carted off the field against Indiana and still banged up when he faced the Wolverines 2 weeks later.
Georgia, which boasts the nation’s No. 1 run defense, is by far the greatest test of his career. No back has gained 100 yards against the Dawgs this year.
But as Williams has shown thus far, he’s capable of stepping up to a challenge.
Dark-horse Dallan Hayden?
Freshman Dallan Hayden could potentially be a Playoff dark horse for the Buckeyes — kind of like Cardale Jones once was, just at a different position.
After Williams’ injury, Hayden gained 102 yards on 19 carries against Indiana. He followed it up at Maryland the next week with 147 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries.
But Hayden unexpectedly tumbled down the depth chart against Michigan, serving as the third-string back behind Williams and converted linebacker Chip Trayanum. Hayden only had 2 carries for 7 yards.
Ryan Day attributed it to “the flow of the game” and running backs coach Tony Alford’s rotation.
It sounds like that might change moving forward.
“Dallan is going to be a big part of this bowl game,” Day recently told reporters.
Maybe big enough to be a name we don’t forget.