COLUMBUS — Ohio State has plenty of talent, and it doesn’t just stop when the starting lineup comes off the field.
The Buckeyes recruit at a clip only topped by a couple programs every year, so it’s safe to assume when the first-team guys come off and the younger guys find playing time, talent will show.
But what Ryan Day, the entire coaching staff and the Buckeyes are starting to show is what happens when younger, talented players mix in with the proven veterans. Ohio State had 18 defensive players with a tackle against Michigan State. The Buckeyes got the ball to 10 different playmakers on the offensive side.
It’s depth like what has been shown through six games that will allow Ohio State to compete for a national title in January.
“We’re trying to play anybody that has earned the right to play,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “Our kids in practice practice extremely hard. They bought in to the top as they can. Therefore, when it gets time, when somebody gets tired or somebody needs to come off, it’s great to be able to put somebody in there.
“And they step forward.”
As Ohio State worked through the opening six-week stretch of the season, players like Master Teague and Baron Browning have already proven they belong on the field for any circumstance. But they aren’t alone as guys who can contribute more down the stretch.
As the season flips to the second half and Ohio State continues a push for the College Football Playoff, Lettermen Row has five picks of guys who are due for a breakout final six games.
DB Josh Proctor
Josh Proctor has been a Lettermen Row choice to break out since spring camp, and it appears he has already begun to do so. Proctor found himself on the field in big situations alongside Jordan Fuller for Ohio State last week against Michigan State, proving that he has progressed enough to find time in the rotation. His presence was announced with a hit of a Spartans tight end — a sign that Proctor is ready to be physical on the big stage for the Buckeyes. As he continues to earn more playing time, potentially even Friday night against Northwestern, he can add highlights to his young tape, one that already features a rangy interception from the season opener against Florida Atlantic.
WR Garrett Wilson
Garrett Wilson has already shown he can be a contributor when it matters most for the Buckeyes, so he will just need to keep adding to that budding resume. The true freshman wide receiver made an insane over-the-top catch over a Miami (Ohio) defender on Sept. 21, then made another great toe-tapping catch against Nebraska in a hostile environment. Oh, and he can return punts, which he has already shown an ability to provide a spark where the Buckeyes might need one. The return game could be a big spot for Wilson moving forward. If he keeps making plays like those, his role within the offense and the trust from wide receivers coach Brian Hartline will only continue to grow.
DE Tyreke Smith
If he can stay healthy this season, Tyreke Smith seems to be on track to be the next great Ohio State defensive end. He has tremendous potential and skills, but he also hasn’t been able to stay on the field this season. He missed the season opener, returned to make a sack against Cincinnati — then was injured the next week at Indiana. Now, he seems back and healthy. And he seems ready to take the next step in becoming a dominant pass-rusher like his teammate Chase Young. Those are high expectations, but Smith might be the guy along the defensive line that can reach them in the second half of the season.
CB Cameron Brown
Cameron Brown wouldn’t have made many preseason two-deep lists, but he has worked himself into the primary backup cornerback role as the season arrives at the second half. Brown stepped in for an injured Damon Arnette, playing an entire half against a ranked opponent in Michigan State. Brown excelled with a pass break-up and a tackle for loss in the Buckeyes win over the Spartans. But more important? He proved why he has been called on to be the backup cornerback. If he keeps playing at a high level, he could have an even bigger role later this season.
DE Zach Harrison
While Smith was out for a few weeks, younger edge rushers had to step in. Zach Harrison did just that early in the season, and now, he’s gaining confidence and reps when it matters. Harrison split a sack with Chase Young last week against Michigan State in the second quarter of a close game against a ranked opponent. That’s a sure sign of progress for the freshman who was highly regarded coming to Ohio State. Harrison is starting to come along as a key piece of the Silver Bullets defense that has been dominating opponents. The Buckeyes could get even better defensively if Harrison continues to progress in the second half of the season.