The week 9 slate threw up a couple of interesting matchups. I hadn’t had a good look at Ohio State since their week 1 win against Notre Dame, so away at Penn State seemed a good time to check-in on some top talent, not only the Buckeyes, but a couple of highly rated Nittany Lions too.
The game itself was a tight affair, with the Buckeyes having to fight tooth and nail to maintain their unbeaten start. They did come through in the end though winning 44-31, although the game was much tighter than the final score suggests.
We’ll start the notes with the winning Buckeyes…
Quarterback C.J Stroud seems to be suffering from the “over analysis brigade” this year. He is putting together a Heisman Trophy winning type season. However, the nit-pickers are highlighting some flaws, whilst ignoring the consistency and production.
Penn State gave him some issues, and truth be told it was the defense that won this game for Ohio State. That said you can’t ignore the poise and accuracy he displays from the pocket. The questions come when being asked to perform out of structure, and there’s no doubt this is his biggest weakness, but what you see from him when he’s kept clean, is one of the best clinical passers in football.
I still believe he will be QB1 come April, but in all honesty you can’t go wrong with either him or Alabama’s Bryce Young.
Stroud may have a limited ceiling, but he has such a high floor that he seems like a safe, NFL starter ready player, and those types will go very high.
Stroud’s favourite target this year has been Freshman sensation Wide Receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. Those old enough (like me) will remember his Dad destroying cornerbacks in the NFL from 1996-2008 with the Indianapolis Colts, and his son looks like he may be as good as his old man, who of course is a Hall of Famer. Those are lofty expectations, but what he displayed in this game was his smooth routes and excellent hands.
I would go so far to say that I’m certain if he was draft eligible he would be WR1 in this class.
We’ll have to wait until next year to salivate over this next great Ohio State receiver prospect as he already looks like a certain future first round pick. And would it be bold to say, possibly a high end one at that?
Left tackle Paris Johnson was very highly thought of coming into the season, but there was a question mark about how he’d transition over from guard, where he spent the 2021 season.
Well, from what I’ve seen so far this season, he’s done a very nice job, so much so that he has been talked about now as a potential top ten pick.
I really like him as a prospect too, but this tape against Penn State makes me pause, and perhaps we need to lower that hype just a touch?
There is no doubting his natural ability and athleticism – that’s easy to see – But there still seem to be some mental errors and technique issues that would need clearing up before slotting him in the top ten for me.
Right tackle Dawand Jones is almost the complete opposite of Paris Johnson. He is a massive (6’8 360lbs) road grader who once he gets his hands on you it’s over.
He has better athleticism than you’d think for such a huge human, but he does get done by quicker, shiftier Edges, who can get by him in a flash. He is a plug and play right tackle in the NFL and there’s an easy comparison to Trent Brown. Brown has carved out a nice career for himself, despite originally being just a seventh round pick.
Jones displayed his heavy hands and brute power in the run game against the Nittany Lions and he looked pretty good in pass protection too, as he held up well against their edge rushers, but he had some trouble with the blitz’s that Penn State dialled up.
He will be viewed as a high floor player who should be selected somewhere on day two of the draft.
As I mentioned earlier the Buckeyes have their defense to thank for this win. There were numerous standout performances but we have to start with the quite incredible show that EDGE J.T Tuimoloau put on.
It’s not often that a defensive lineman will grab an interception, but Tuimoloau didn’t just get one against the Nittany Lions, no he bagged two of them, and returned the second one 18 yards for a touchdown too.
He also battered a pass that was intercepted by fellow EDGE Zach Harrison, recorded three tackles-for-loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Quite an afternoon from the sophomore and one that will really put him on scouts’ radars.
The interceptions were very different, the first being a great read on the running back coming out in the flat and jumping the route. The second was leaping high mid pass rush, to grab the ball intended for a receiver behind him. Both of these plays demonstrated elite athleticism and high football IQ.
However, we mustn’t get carried away here.
All of his pass rush wins were against the back-up right tackle, who was playing because of injury to their regular starter, and he was having a complete mare. I don’t think he is the second coming of Chase Young or the Bosas, he doesn’t have that kind of bend around the edge that the top pass rushers do.
But one thing he has now, is a statement game on tape and something to build on heading into the 2023 season.
Junior safety Ronnie Hickman has impressed me quite a bit this year, and that continued with another good showing in this game. He is such a solid all round player.
Hickman is good against the run and a willing tackler, he also has nice athleticism and play recognition to match up in the passing game. He was always around the ball and finished with six tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. Even the negatives were not so negative either – The only completion he gave up went for just four yards.
If it wasn’t for Tuimoloau, Hickman would have been the talk of the game. There isn’t a clear cut number one safety in this draft class, but Hickman is certainly making his way up boards and he would be a top five safety for me right now.
The Nittany Lions were in this game deep into the fourth quarter, which is a testament to them, as there is a big gulf in the quality of draft prospects between the two teams. They do have a couple of players who are getting quite a bit of buzz right now, so let’s see how they did in this game.
We’ll start with Left Tackle Olu Fashanu, who right now is being discussed as an OT1 possibility. He is only 19 years old, but is draft eligible and he has scouts drooling with his natural ability.
He is quite an easy watch, especially in pass protection, where he has excellent feet to control the arc and strong hands on long arms to ride pass rushers away with ease.
The problems occured in the run game where he was often beaten to his spot by a defender and knocked off balance. He does have everything scouts want in a blindside protector though, size, arm length and athleticism, so it’s easy to understand why he’s moving up boards.
I would just like to see him become more refined, especially in the run game, before investing a round one pick on him. There is a chance of course he returns to Happy Valley for another season, but with the tackle class this wide open I think he would be a certain first rounder if he did come out.
Like Marvin Harrison, Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is the son of a former NFL star too. Joey Porter Sr. was a Pittsburgh Steeler legend in his day, and now his son is climbing rapidly up draft boards and into first round mocks.
Porter Jr. is as feisty as his old man was, he is just 40 odd pounds lighter and playing a totally different position.
We were hoping to see plenty of Harrison vs. Porter matchups during the game, but the truth was they only battled each other on a handful of plays. They were a fun watch though, and although Harrison had the big stat line, Porter matched up nicely with him when they did face off.
Porter’s physicality is both a positive and negative though. Everyone loves a physical corner who isn’t afraid to hit in the run game and jam receivers off of routes, but he also gets very grabby. He was called deservedly for one pass interference penalty in the game because of this.
I think Porter will appeal to lots of NFL teams, but without elite athleticism I think he may end up as a day two player rather than going in the first round.
Penn State’s best player in this game was wide receiver Parker Washington, who I’ve been high on for the last couple of seasons.
He had his biggest game of the season, against the highest ranked opponent they’ll play, catching 11 balls for 179 yards and one touchdown. He has great hands, runs nice routes and always seems to find a way to get open. And he does all of this without being the best athlete on the field.
How about this for a way to bring this article to a close… I feel like there’s a bit of Deebo Samuel about him, and I think if he test’s OK he may sneak into day two of the draft, if he comes out.
Check back with me in April on that one.
Follow Keith on Twitter @LordLucken