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Even shorthanded, never doubt Ohio State Rushmen under Larry Johnson

Larry Johnson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson continues to prove why he's the best in the game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Even shorthanded, never doubt Ohio State Rushmen under Larry Johnson

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the Ohio State and the defensive line? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

There is no question that Ohio State would prefer not to find out how far the combination of impressive depth and Larry Johnson’s coaching can take the defensive line.

But just in case the Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper absences linger into the final two weeks of the regular season, it certainly looks like the Buckeyes would be capable of navigating those matchups without their two starting captains on the edge.

Honestly, it’s truly remarkable to look at that possibility and not even have any real doubts about it being true. Young is the best player in college football and Cooper is a former five-star recruit who was poised to have the best season of his career, and any suggestion back in training camp that Ohio State would be fine without them would have raised some eyebrows. And while posting a season-high in sacks against Maryland wouldn’t be the same as cranking up an effective pass rush against College Football Playoff-caliber competition, by the time the Buckeyes get there, they figure to have both Young and Cooper back — and a bunch of guys who showed they could get the job done when Johnson needed them.

Tyreke Smith-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith has helped pick up the slack for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The exact timeline for Young’s return remains in the hands of the NCAA, and speculating about the length of the suspension remains pointless given the inconsistent way the governing body handles discipline. But there hasn’t been any indication from Lettermen Row reporting that the worst-case scenario is a likely outcome for Young, he’s still practicing with the Buckeyes, the whispers around the process point to him missing one more week — and he has no plans to leave his teammates early to prepare for the NFL Draft.

As for Cooper, his high-ankle sprain also remains difficult to project, and it’s clearly killing him that he can’t help the Buckeyes right now. But the off date and the walk-throughs against Maryland and Rutgers could be just what he needs to have a shot at a return for the matchups that matter most to the top-ranked team in the country.

But when it comes to dealing with their absences, the Larry Johnson Impact simply can’t be denied. Zach Harrison is way ahead of schedule for a true freshman at defensive end, Tyreke Smith is healthy and looking like the next superstar off the assembly line and even on short notice Johnson was able to get Rashod Berry ready to help out as a two-way weapon. That’s just on the edge and overlooks the dominance on the interior fueled by Davon Hamilton, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell, and those guys on the inside have been a major part of the turnaround on defense all along.

If the Buckeyes had to keep rolling at the same level in the semifinal or with the national championship on the line, maybe the absence of Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper might be more noticeable. That scenario probably won’t actually happen — but if it did, it hardly seems like a good idea to bet against Larry Johnson.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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