C.J. Stroud and JSN excluded, because we already knew those guys are studs.
Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Whose breakout Rose Bowl performance has you most excited for 2022?
Josh’s Take: Tommy Eichenberg
The 2022 Rose Bowl was, without a doubt, one of the most exciting Ohio State football games in recent memory. It wasn’t the greatest — that title is reserved for a championship-winning performance, or perhaps a win over TTUN — but the New Year’s Day thriller we just witnessed in Pasadena had it all: intrigue during the lead-up, a legendary football venue, frustration as a result of the poor start, and a thrilling comeback.
The Buckeye victory also produced a number of historic, memorable performances. Offensively, C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are still hooking up for chunk plays, and Marvin Harrison Jr. announced his presence to the world. The offensive line did not open up holes for a Buick to fit through, but they kept Stroud clean in the passing game. Time in the pocket was a huge factor in OSU’s ability to mount a comeback during the second half. Really, it’s fair to say that the entire offense had a memorable game, which should give us plenty of excitement for the 2022 season.
On the other side of the ball, our excitement should stem from… I don’t know, maybe a new, re-structured coaching staff? Gene, the six quarters preceding the second half of this Rose Bowl were scenes from a horror film. However, I do want to recognize certain guys that stepped up. With limited reps, Cade Stover and Kourt Williams performed admirably. Taron Vincent, who I’ve been down on for what seems like a decade, was the only guy who showed passion up front. This was arguably his best game as a Buckeye. And the pièce de résistance – the guy whose performance has me most excited for 2022 — was Tommy Eichenberg!
Two-down Tommy messed around and damn near had 20 tackles against a team that really wanted to establish the run and get physical with Ohio State. He finished with 17 tackles (11 solo), which was the most since Joshua Perry had 18 against Penn State in 2014. Without Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson, Cody Simon and others, it was Eichenberg who absolutely led the charge against Utah. And while I still think he is limited in coverage – as evidenced by him getting beat on a wheel route we all saw from a mile away – I also believe he could be the leader of a re-vamped linebacker group next season.
It is not a hot take to say that OSU linebackers underperformed this season… and last season… let’s just say for a few seasons now. It is part of the reason Jim Knowles was brought in as the new defensive coordinator. He is a linebacker guy. That being said, coaches need talent at their disposal. I believe Ohio State has plenty of it at the linebacker position, but nobody has established themselves as the leader of the pack. Eichenberg could be that guy, especially while C.J. Hicks, Gabe Powers, and others learn the ropes of the college game.
Tommy had 47 tackles entering the Rose Bowl, and it’s easy to look at this game as an aberration, but he showed significant improvement during the second half of the season. During the Oregon game, I was calling for him to enter the transfer portal at halftime. With this performance against Utah, he vaulted up to second on the team in total tackles. His deficiencies in coverage were obvious, but was he ever put in a position to succeed? These coaches are the same ones who had Tuf freaking Borland on Devonta Smith during the championship game last season. Eichenberg also didn’t have a ton of help around him, referring to his fellow linebackers. Cody Simon was up and down, Teradja Mitchell played himself off the field, and Steele Chambers is a converted running back. Hell, Ohio State’s No. 2 tight end, Cade Stover, was playing snaps in the bowl game!
The Buckeyes struggled all year at linebacker, but scheme and coaching were at least partially to blame. Moving forward, I believe that both will improve, and they will need the players to do so as well. Eichenberg’s closing stretch showed that he can be a foundational piece of the defense in 2022. At the very least, I would argue that he is Ohio State’s top returning linebacker — and the most consistent. Eichenberg may never reach that A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, or Raekwon McMillan level, but I do believe he will hold down the middle next season. With so much uncertainty on that side of the ball, his presence and improvement could give them an anchor to build around. I’m excited about his potential, and that of the OSU defense in the future. Go Bucks!
Gene’s Take: Marvin Harrison Jr.
I appreciate Josh going out on more of a limb in this one and choosing a member of the defense as a reason to be exited for 2022. The two of us had a long discussion about the future of Ohio State’s defense on this week’s Hangout in the Holy Land, and both of us agreed that after we were less than impressed with Tommy Eichenberg over the first few weeks of the season, he really showed improvement throughout the year, culminating in his great individual performance in the Rose Bowl. It is tough to find many positives among that unit, and the Jim Knowles era can’t start soon enough, but Eichenberg was definitely a bright spot.
Even better for me is that Josh choosing Eichenberg allows me to talk about the Buckeyes’ incredible receiving core. Ohio State was without Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in Pasadena, as both opted out in favor of the NFL Draft where they will both be first-round picks. Despite missing two of the best wideouts in the country, C.J. Stroud threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns against a very good Utah defense, obviously highlighted by Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s record-breaking 347 yards and three touchdowns. Clearly, that duo should give Ohio State fans a ton of excitement for 2022, but choosing either of them for this piece would be far too big a cop out.
Instead, I will gladly go with Marvin Harrison Jr., who after catching just five passes during the regular season, finally got a chance to shine on Saturday with his six catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns.
The son of NFL Hall of Fame Marvin Harrison, the 6-foot-3 St. Joseph’s Prep star came to Columbus as a four-star prospect and a top-100 overall recruit in the 2021 class. Even before the season began, it was clear that the younger Harrison was going to be a special player. After drawing rave reviews in preseason practices, the true freshman put together an impressive display in Ohio State’s Spring Game, hauling in a touchdown catch and looking like a seasoned veteran from the jump. Unfortunately for him, despite the obvious talent, he would not get a chance to make an impact throughout the season behind guys like Olave, Wilson and Smith-Njigba.
Now, two of those guys are off to the league, and with JSN returning as the team’s obvious No. 1 receiver in 2022, there will be two other spots behind him up for grabs, and Harrison Jr. will almost certainly be a recipient of one of those. There is no shortage of talent behind him, with Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka both former No. 1 wide receivers in their respective recruiting classes, and while I think we will see a bit more rotation among that group than we saw this season, Harrison Jr. is simply too good to come off the field, especially in the red zone. His big frame, excellent route running and great hands make him a dangerous weapon in the corner of the end zone, as we have already seen a small glimpse of in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State’s passing offense is going to once again be stellar in 2022. Stroud will enter the season as the Heisman frontrunner, Jaxon Smith-Njigba looks like he is every bit a future first round pick, Fleming and Egbuka were they top-rated players at their positions coming out of high school — with Egbuka already showing tremendous value as a return man in the kicking game — and then you have Harrison Jr., the son of an NFL great who looks like he could be the next Michael Thomas. Combine all that with the return of a dynamic duo at running back in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, as well as an offensive line that will be playing the correct positions, and it is hard not to be excited about what’s to come next season.