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What Position Group Needs To Have a Big Season in 2023 at Ohio State

2023 Ohio State University

There is no doubt that going into the 2023 season that all eyes are on the quarterback battle at Ohio State and who will win and if they will be able to continue the standard set by those that came before. But I believe there is no reason to worry about the offense at Ohio State as they have been setting records every year and are one of the only teams in the nation that has averaged 40-plus points per game every season for the last few years. Through every change at the QB position they have been perfectly fine and may have even gotten better with every change. So while the offense and the future quarterback may be what most of the nation has been focused on, there may be a more important position group that needs to have a big year in 2023 in order for Ohio State to remain a national contender.

That position is the defensive line, a unit that for the last decade has wreaked havoc on the Big Ten and the nation, but in recent years has seen a major fall off. How big is that fall off for the defensive line? Well their last big season was in 2019 when they had the top sack leader in the nation in Chase Young, who put up 16.5 sacks and as a team had more sacks than any other in college football with 51. Since then they have failed to have any player with more than six sacks in a season and as a team have failed to rank in the top-25 in sacks.

But the 2023 defensive line may turn around the Buckeyes fortunes as they have three of the most intriguing prospects in the Big Ten returning once again to a retooled defense. Year two of the Jim Knowles defense has moved Jack Sawyer back to defensive end after playing in a specialized position known as "the Jack" which had Sawyer playing as an NFL style edge rusher who would also drop back into coverage at times. Sawyer felt uncomfortable in the role and it was mutually agreed upon by the coaches and Sawyer to move him back to the defensive end spot. Despite his disliking of the role he was put in, he still led the team in sacks with 4.5. Now moving the former No. 1 prospect in the state of Ohio back into his natural position should allow him to focus on his job as a pure pass rusher and may allow him to double the numbers he put up a season ago.

Michael Hall Jr. is another interesting prospect for Ohio State next season, as he was a force to be reckoned with at the defensive tackle position for part of the 2022 campaign. He tied with Sawyer as the team leader in sacks and will be looking to build upon a solid sophomore campaign in 2023. Now that his fellow DT Jerron Cage is gone to the NFL to play with the New Orleans Saints he will be the no-doubt starter and leader of the interior of the defensive line alongside Tyleik Williams who had five sacks in his freshman season, but just one last year as a sophomore. With Sawyer moving back to the defensive end position and the next guy on our list looking primed for a big season, holes may open up for Hall Jr. to have a huge season and turn him into a 1st round NFL draft pick next spring.

Now for the leader of the Buckeye line from a season ago, J.T. Tuimoloau. He grabbed national media attention for his game winning performance against Penn State last season, but outside of that game he has struggled to live up to his potential after he came out of high school as the number two rated player in the country. While he has only played two seasons and hasn't put up big numbers in either of them he will likely be departing for the NFL Draft next offseason. Which leaves just one year left to leave a legacy of more than one good game for J.T. Tuimoloau at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes return a trio of young stars in the making that will no doubt find rotational snaps throughout the season in Hero Kanu, Caden Curry, and Kenyata Jackson who were given minimal snaps last year, but they all found ways to leave Buckeye fans excited for the future. Jaden McKenzie is a fifth-year defensive tackle that hasn't seen the field much throughout his playing career at Ohio State, but may see an increased role this year due to his veteran status and a short depth chart.

The Buckeyes also utilized the transfer portal to add some depth after losing Javontae Jean-Baptiste to Notre Dame and Tyler Friday, who decided not to return with one year of eligibility left, as they brought in former Ole Miss defensive tackle Tywone Malone. He was one of the top lineman in the portal this year and a top-100 high school recruit in 2021. He will join four new recruits from the class of 2023 which boasts four 4-star linemen in DL Will Smith, DL Jason Moore, EDGE Joshua Mickens, and DL Kayden McDonald.

Having an experienced big-three back on the defensive line should mean big things for Ohio State in 2023 as they look to return to the College Football Playoff. When Ohio State has had an excellent pass rush, it has also translated to having a great run-stopping unit as well. Which is something the Buckeyes need if they are going to win the Big Ten this year and stop their two-game losing streak in The Game. In addition to the dynamic duo of Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum, Ohio State will have to stop Penn State's duo of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, who are now being led by the former top-QB recruit in the state of Ohio in Drew Allar. They will also see Maryland's Roman Hemby in game five of the season, Hemby was sixth in the conference last year in rushing yards. So if the defensive line continues their subpar play from the last three seasons, it won't matter how good Kyle McCord, Devin Brown, or Tristan Gebbia might be on offense, the Buckeyes will once again be failed by their defense in the biggest games of the year.



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