COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football has sought a consistent pass rush threat since Chase Young walked off the field after the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
When J.T. Tuimoloau showed up late last summer and worked his way into starting assignments, he stirred optimism that a true edge star would soon arrive. If that eruption happens this season, would it result in a defense solid enough to ensure a playoff run?
We solicited burning questions from our Buckeye Talk Subtext subscribers as Big Ten Media Days and the start of preseason camp approach. Sign up now for a two-week free trial of our $3.99 monthly service.
One texter from the 561 area code asked: “If J.T. Tuimoloau has a breakout season is there any reason we don’t go to the championship game?”
That question is testament to how comfortable and prepared Tuimoloau looked as a freshman despite not even committing until early July. True freshmen have a hard enough time competing right away. Sometimes early spring enrollees find a way, but summer arrivals are almost always written off.
Last spring it seemed Jack Sawyer might be the player targeted with a question such as this. Tuimoloau, though, combines the all-around skill set of a multi-sport prospect with advanced football awareness and a mature approach. Tuimoloau played over 100 more snaps than Sawyer last season because he was more physically prepared to stifle the run in addition to bringing pressure.
If he makes a noticeable lunge towards his ceiling in 2022, does that increase the likelihood of a trip to Los Angeles for the national championship game? It certainly doesn’t hurt, but it ultimately may not matter if OSU does not improve its ability to stop the run across the entire defense.
Ohio State allowed 3.68 yards per carry last season, ranking 33rd nationally. Respectable, but not the OSU standard. That was the highest per-yardage allowance by the defense since 2014 with the exception of the 2018 crater (4.52).
Yet even that yards-per-carry average does not fully describe how much a lack of run stoppage sunk the Buckeyes last season. Oregon averaged 7.1 yards per carry on Sept. 11. Michigan averaged 7.7 on Nov. 27.
There goes your playoff berth. And without improvement, the same thing could happen again in 2022.
• Notre Dame returns several offensive linemen with starting experience, including Jarrett Patterson, who is receiving preseason All-American recognition.
• Wisconsin sophomore Braelon Allen is being talked about as one of the best in the country after averaging 6.8 yards per carry and topping 100 yards in eight of his last nine games.
• Michigan’s Blake Corum needed only six carries to total 87 yards against the Buckeyes last season. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored a touchdown once every 13 carries. Donovan Edwards made a bigger impact as a receiver out of the backfield, but also holds great potential.
• Iowa always seems to replenish its offensive line talent, even after losing players the caliber of first-round NFL Draft pick center Tyler Linderbaum.
• Penn State typically finds a way to challenge OSU and returns sophomore Landon Tengwall, who projects as a 6-6, 326-pound road grater at left guard.
Tuimoloau can be part of the answer to all of those challenges. The solution won’t be that simple, though. Promising interior defensive line players need to take the next step. The linebacker alignment must stabilize. The Bandit and Rover safeties need to provide more back-end security.
There is reason to believe OSU is trending towards an answer at all three of those levels. Returning to the form of a championship defense, though, is not a one-man job.
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