COLUMBUS — Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett was inches from losing his life.
The Buckeyes senior was nearly killed when he was shot in the face. But instead, the bullet ripped through his cheek, knocking out five teeth and sending him to the hospital on campus.
Less than two months later, Garrett was in a Big Ten football game, in what defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs called a miracle. And he the first Buckeyes sack of the season. Garrett never lost focus of trying to get back on the football field through his comeback effort.
“It was everybody,” he said Tuesday on a Zoom call about who helped him through the last two months. “It was Buckeye Nation, it was my coaches, my friends and most importantly, my family. My coaches, Coach Day, Coach J and our defensive coordinator Coach Coombs for believing in me.”
Garrett can’t eat many foods; he’s on a liquid diet, but he’s been able to maintain his playing weight. He couldn’t practice for a while. He had to sit out while his teammates prepped for a late-October opener. But when he got back on the field, he showed why he can be a wrecking ball for the Buckeyes defensive line.
“I’m not surprised because I know what Haskell’s capable of, but I am really impressed with the way he played,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “You have to give a lot of credit to everybody involved to get him ready to play at that level after such a traumatic event. So while I wasn’t surprised with his ability on the field, it was pretty impressive to see that quick turnaround. If he can continue that, he can have a major impact on our defense in a position we all had our eyes on going into this first game. That was big.”
Garrett and Day both met with the media Tuesday to break down the season-opening win over Nebraska, the impressive comeback by Garrett and more. Lettermen Row is here to analyze What We Learned from the Buckeyes.
Garrett Wilson only getting better, more comfortable in slot
Garrett Wilson is going to be successful no matter where he lines up in the Buckeyes offense. He’s a game-changing weapon.
Ryan Day and the coaching staff thought he would be used best as a replacement for K.J. Hill in the slot, and they were certainly correct. Wilson lit Nebraska up for seven catches, 129 yards and a long touchdown reception in his slot debut. And that was just in the first game at his new position.
“Every week I am working on getting better in the slot,” Wilson said. “Like I said, with the extended offseason, I got to get a lot of work in there. It was a move I was excited to make from the outside and still being able to mix in some of the outside. I feel like I can get some good matchups, favorable matchups in the slot.”
Wilson can be a matchup nightmare in the slot for Big Ten defenses. And he is still becoming comfortable in that role. He seems to just be getting started.
Buckeyes working through early-season run-game struggles
Ohio State is expected to have one of the best tandems of running backs in the country this season in Master Teague and Trey Sermon. The Buckeyes are also expected to have one of the best offensive lines in college football this year. Together, that should scare many defensive fronts.
But the Buckeyes weren’t as impressive up front in the run game as they wanted to be Saturday against Nebraska. That shouldn’t concern anyone. The five offensive linemen and the offensive staff will get everything figured out. At least, they think that’s the case.
“There was definitely some things we weren’t happy with,” Ohio State center Josh Myers said. “I’d be lying to you if I said it went perfect, because it didn’t. There were things that needed to be cleaned up, but I think, honestly, it’s just not so much, I would attribute it to being our first game in 10 months. I don’t know how else to put it. I think we have confidence that they’re all things that we can get fixed. Also it was just one of those games where, as an offensive line wanting to run the ball, things just didn’t go our way.
“There were a lot of times where holes were there and Justin would pull it because he had the read to pull it and throw the screen or just things like that. When we did block well, it just, for whatever reason, seemed like it wasn’t hitting. It’s something that I’m not worried about. I have all the confidence in our guys.”
And in the next game against Penn State, it’s a safe bet to believe they’ll be better in the run game.
Young Buckeyes receivers ready if Chris Olave can’t play
The Buckeyes seem quite confident that superstar play-making wide receiver Chris Olave will be ready to go Saturday against Penn State despite his injury sustained in last week’s blowout win. But if Olave is unavailable, Ohio State is deep enough at wide receiver to get by.
“We would just move some things around just like we always do,” Day said. “That’s where depth comes into play. As the week goes on, we’ll see how it goes.”
Garrett Wilson certainly can take over a game from the slot. And Ohio State has four top-150 prospects in its wide receiver room from the 2020 class alone. Three of those four earned playing time Saturday, and two caught passes from Justin Fields. They may not be experienced receivers, but they’re capable of making up for Olave’s potential absence.
“They competed. They did what they typically do in practice,” Day said. “I think the big thing for all of them is just the toughness and the physicality of playing in a Big Ten football game, protecting, blocking, those type of things. I thought they ran decent routes, and for the most time, caught the ball well. It was good to start off of in terms of a starting point, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Backup quarterback battle far from decided
The biggest surprise of the season-opener came in the closing minutes of the blowout, when freshman quarterback Jack Miller trotted onto the field to take snaps with the second-team offense.
The Buckeyes have made sure their competition to be Justin Fields’ backup was secretive, but fellow freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud and senior signal-caller Gunnar Hoak both were presumed to have an edge on Miller. And just because Miller was the first quarterback off the bench in Game One doesn’t mean the competition to be second-in-command is settled.
“It’s an ongoing deal,” Day said. “At some point, if one of them jump in front of the other, we’ll go from there. Right now, it’s just lack of reps. So they’re still battling. They’re still learning. They’re still trying to figure it out. They’re getting better, and they’re showing some flashes here and there but we’ll just keep that going and take it week-to-week.”