During the 2020-21 college football season, despite making it all the way to the College Football Playoff Championship, the Ohio State Buckeyes had the No. 59 ranked defense in the country. Ohio State gave up 401.6 yards per game across their eight games.
In the title game vs. Alabama, the Crimson Tide gashed the Buckeyes for 621 yards of total offense on their way to a lopsided 52-24 victory.
On Monday’s edition of ESPN’s College Football Live, analyst Greg McElroy said that Ohio State’s defense will be problematic once again during the 2021-22 season.
“The thing I’m not concerned about is the QB position at Ohio State,” McElroy said. “They’ve had great quarterback play for as long as I can remember. The thing I’m worried about is that I don’t feel like anything has been addressed on the defensive side. And while I feel like their secondary can’t be much worse than they were last year, I didn’t see many guys in the spring game who I felt confident in putting on islands and locking down some elite wide receivers … their defense still has things they need to figure out, including who’s going to be the dominant pass rusher up front and who’s going to be the lockdown corners on the perimeter that they’ve relied on for so many years.”
Despite McElroy’s negative outlook, the Buckeyes do have a player to be very excited about on the defensive side of the ball. True freshman Jack Sawyer, a 247Sports Composite five-star recruit and No. 4 ranked player in the recruiting class of 2021, should wreak havoc on the defensive line this season.
On Saturday, Buckeye fans finally got to see Sawyer in action. While it was just in a spring game, the defensive end got everyone’s attention with his first performance in a scarlet and gray uniform at Ohio Stadium.
“He is off to a great start for sure,” head coach Ryan Day said of Sawyer after the spring game. “He’s just earning more and more reps, he’s working his way up the depth chart. I think across the board, our D-line was solid this year. We have some good depth there. But Jack, in particular, came in with a lot of confidence and he’s made a lot of plays.”
The official Ohio State spring game statistics list Sawyer as recording four total tackles, three sacks and three tackles for a loss. In actuality, Sawyer recorded four sacks and also forced freshman quarterback Kyle McCord into a fumble.
While spring game rules dictated no live tackling, and when it comes to hitting quarterbacks, defensive players might as well be playing touch football, Sawyer was still impressive. After the Buckeye defensive ends discussed this offseason needing to get to the quarterback more often next year rather than just putting on pressure, Sawyer put on a clinic. He may not have recorded four sacks in an actual game in the fall — which would have tied the Scarlet and Gray single-game record — but Sawyer showed why his name has come up so often this spring.
It wasn’t just in the spring game either where Sawyer has gone to work. He’s been making life difficult for Ohio State offensive lineman throughout the 15 spring practices. Just ask fifth-year senior Thayer Munford.
“He’s been doing it very consistently because he’s been getting to work with coach Johnson, Zach (Harrison), Tyreke (Smith), all the veteran players that actually have played and he’s been working,” the left tackle said. “He has a motor. I’m just happy that he’s on our team.”
Bucknuts’ Patrick Murphy contributed to this report.