A numbing loss to archrival Michigan coupled with an absence from both the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff rendered 2021 a disappointment for the Buckeyes and their followers. Such is life in Columbus, where 11 wins including a thrilling comeback in the Rose Bowl simply aren't enough.
Head coach Ryan Day, in turn, did some offseason soul searching and reeled in accomplished assistant Jim Knowles to run the defense. Last year, the Buckeyes played on their heels, had tackling issues and gave up way too many lengthy plays. Knowles, who guided a top-five defense at Oklahoma State, of all places, is the hired savior. Assistants Tim Walton and Perry Eliano are on hand to shore up the secondary. Among those who sing Walton's praises is L.A. Rams superstar Jalen Ramsey. Eliano just sent several Cincinnati Bearcats to the NFL.
Day even has shown a willingness to tinker with the high-octane offense, bringing aboard former UCLA aide Justin Frye to improve the production of the offensive line.
When the Buckeyes do have the ball, quarterback C.J. Stroud and wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba will form one of the best pass-and-catch combos in the nation. Stroud is a preseason Heisman favorite, while Smith-Njigba set school records in receptions (95) and receiving yardage (1,606) last season.
Previewing Ohio State's Offense for 2022
Stroud is the latest Ohio State signal-caller to absolutely flourish in Day's system following the late Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Justin Fields. In 2021, he lit up opponents with both accuracy (71.9 completion percentage) and big plays (4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns) while pitching just six interceptions. If he can be even more efficient in the red zone and use his legs when required, the Buckeyes' offense could soar to even greater heights.
Similarly, it's time for TreVeyon Henderson to make the next step — and that could vault him to the status of the Big Ten's best running back. He can damage a defense at any moment and appears primed for even more success. Still, position coach Tony Alford likes to mix and match in the backfield. Look for Miyan Williams and redshirt freshman Evan Pryor to also have moments of impact.
When we last saw Smith-Njigba without Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, he was hauling in 15 passes for 347 yards and three scores in a 48–45 Rose Bowl win over Utah — simply one of the best performances in major college history. Plus, he figures to receive plenty of help this year with Marvin Harrison Jr. coming into his own and talents such as Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka also making plays.
The offensive line was a tad inconsistent last year and trudges on without Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford, but tackles Paris Johnson Jr. and the massive Dawand Jones (6'8", 360) should be solid protectors.
Previewing Ohio State's Defense for 2022
While the offense was among the best in the nation last year, the OSU defense was look-away-bad at times. The Buckeyes ranked in the top five of the Big Ten in sacks and interceptions but were ninth in points allowed per game (22.8) and struggled in other areas. Knowles is addressing the problem by stressing better pursuit angles, more aggression, deeper use of the roster and varying looks.
Keep an eye on Jack Sawyer up front. Knowles likes his tenacity and versatility and believes he can be moved around the formation. J.T. Tuimoloau is another developing weapon outside to accent the hulking Zach Harrison and agile Javontae Jean-Baptiste. Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage and Ty Hamilton bring experience to the interior.
The Buckeyes need dependability in the middle of the unit, and junior linebacker Tommy Eichenberg is ready to provide it. He amassed 17 tackles in the Rose Bowl and followed up with an impressive spring. Converted running backs Steele Chambers and Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum as well as Teradja Mitchell, a co-captain last season, also figure into the mix at LB.
The development of the secondary will be both key and intriguing. Veteran corners Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown will draw the tough assignments, but youngster Jordan Hancock will provide additional coverage. Safety could be a strength with the active Ronnie Hickman in the "adjuster" role and the physical Josh Proctor back from a leg fracture that ended his 2021 campaign. Transfer safety Tanner McCalister thrived under Knowles at Oklahoma State.
Previewing Ohio State's Specialists for 2022
Placekicker Noah Ruggles is coming off a quietly fantastic year, drilling 20-of-21 field-goal attempts and all 74 extra points. Meanwhile, Jesse Mirco punted just 31 times but averaged a solid 42.3 yards per boot. Also returning is long snapper Bradley Robinson. Egbuka is back to return kickoffs after averaging 29.0 yards per runback. Smith-Nijigba could be asked to field punts — but not at the cost of his health.
While celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Ohio Stadium, Ohio State will embark on an eight-game home schedule that begins with a visit from Notre Dame and ends with the hated Wolverines coming to town. Mowing through the Irish and a daunting Big Ten will require a new defensive identity and more consistent play up front. The Buckeyes have legitimate All-America candidates at the skill positions but were manhandled in the trenches in both losses last year. The speed, talent and depth are in place, and if the new assistants unearth some needed physicality, this team will be formidable.
National Ranking: 2
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