Through seven games, Ohio State x-factors continue to make plays. CJ Stroud leads the most prolific offense in the nation. Marvin Harrison Jr. already looks like a top-ten draft pick. Jim Knowles has completely turned around a putrid defense.
The Buckeyes have so many household names that the list ends up pages long when the dust settles and we are preparing for the NFL Draft. However, if Ohio State wants to continue balling out against a five-game stretch with three already bowl-eligible teams, some players will have to either step up or continue playing at a high level.
Four Ohio State X-Factors for the Rest of the Season
Heading into the season, all of the focus was on superstar running back, TreVeyon Henderson, and for good reason. Henderson is a legit athlete and is a home run threat with each and every touch. As the offense struggled to find itself early, Henderson went down with an injury. Thus paved the way for the human wrecking ball, Miyan Williams.
Miyan Williams is an NFL running back. pic.twitter.com/zpiCZj1eRt
— Jon Helmkamp (@JonHelmkamp) October 1, 2022
Through seven games, Williams, not Henderson, is the Buckeyes leading rusher with 516 yards and nine touchdowns off of 74 carries. He’s averaging 7.0 yards per carry whereas Henderson is managing a still-solid 5.9. Both of those marks are career-best for Williams.
Against Iowa, Williams struggled, rushing for just 19 yards and a score off of 10 carries. His previous two appearances against Wisconsin and Rutgers? He rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns and 159 yards and five touchdowns, respectively.
Williams has some speed but his strength is his vision as well as his ability to absorb and even dish out contact. Nicknamed “Chop” by his peers, Williams is a fan and team favorite. His effort is unmatched and is often lauded as an NFL-ready running back already.
Moving forward, even if Henderson is fully healthy, the Buckeyes offense will have to rely on the rushing attack at some point. Down the stretch, Williams will get to face off against four of the six worst rushing defenses in the Big Ten in terms of rushing yards allowed. That final game against Michigan, of course, will be more difficult.
Williams is a workhorse back and can carry the Buckeyes offense. Since coach Ryan Day loves platooning his running backs by having Henderson on one drive and Williams on the next, Williams will have his opportunity to continue making a difference.
Perhaps the defensive player who has taken the largest leap from last year’s dreadful effort to this year has been Tommy Eichenberg. In his entire 13-game 2021 season, Eichenberg managed 64 tackles and 6.5 for loss. In seven games in 2022, Eichenberg is at 57 tackles and 7.0 for loss with 2.5 sacks. Not to mention the fact that he had a pick-six against Iowa.
Thus far, he’s turned into one of the Big Ten’s best defenders and is making himself some serious NFL money. He’s likely going to be a Semifinalist for the Butkus Award and Buckeye fans are already planning out a spot in Buckeye Grove.
Heading forward, Ohio State faces a freshman phenom in Penn State’s Nick Singletary, Maryland’s passing attack, and Michigan, home of one of the best running backs in the nation. This vastly-improved defense is thanks to Eichenberg. They’ll lean on his play-recognition and impressive athleticism. Considering the linebacker corps has been a source of frustration (and, on a few occasions, just embarrassment), it’s a welcome sight to see Eichenberg and Steele Chambers playing so well.
You can’t talk Ohio State x-factors without mentioning at least one wide receiver. Marvin Harrison, Jr. is already looking elite. Emeka Egbuka is a freak athlete and is just starting to break through (if you can call leading the Buckeyes in receiving and averaging nearly 18 yards per reception breaking through). The question for the remainder of this year is will Jaxon Smith-Njigba get back to form? If so, great! If not, well, Ohio State needs a WR3 and Julian Fleming has already stepped up in a big way.
Julian Fleming had a couple of massive catches today pic.twitter.com/uU7hOEc1nu
— Brodie (@StroudHEISMAN) October 23, 2022
After battling injuries for years and FINALLY getting his chance, Fleming is making the most of his opportunities. He’s appeared in five games and has scored at least once in every game. Against Iowa’s vaunted defense, Fleming hauled in two passes for 105 yards and a touchdown; that marks his first-career 100+ yard game.
In an offense full of home run threats, Fleming leads the way with 19.2 yards per reception. It’s been three years in the works but the former five-star and top-overall recruit in the state of Texas is finally getting to do what he can do.
Ohio State has three of the bottom six passing defenses left on the schedule and already torched the fourth-best to the tune of 286 yards. The Buckeyes are a passing-first offense, led by a Heisman hopeful. Defenses will try to stop Harrison and Egbuka, freeing up Fleming to work with favorable matchups.
Julian Fleming has the ability to make defenses pay for underrating him, as Iowa figured out by giving up a 79-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Over these final games, look for Fleming to continue his trend of massive plays to lead the Buckeyes offense.
If we are being honest, the head coach and play-caller for the Buckeyes has to be the biggest Ohio State x-factor. As head coach, Day has won 41 games in 45 tries, but his most recent blemish was the worst. Michigan head coach infamously referred to Day as “born on third, believing he’d hit a triple,” alluding to the fact that he picked up off of one of the best College Football coaches of all time and not earning what he’s gotten.
Asinine as the comment is, this year is the year to start proving it wrong. This is his fourth season at the helm and the overwhelming majority of his players are his recruits. Despite recruiting at a higher level than Urban Meyer’s lofty marks, Day is still considered overrated. Now, this is likely just due to the fact that he is not Nick Saban, which is fair, nobody is Saban and, likely, nobody ever will be again. However, expectations for Ohio State are championships and Day has yet to hoist the CFP trophy.
The one thing that plagued Meyer’s tenure was embarrassing letdown losses. Losses to Virginia Tech, Michigan State (2015), Penn State, Clemson (31-0 in CFP Semifinal), Iowa, and Purdue perplex fans to this day. Ryan Day has lost four times and three could be considered embarrassing.
The key is to just play Ohio State football. This offense is too good to try and be cute or force Stroud to make NCAA Football video game-like numbers when it’s not necessary. This defense has turned out to be at least borderline elite. Do what got you to where you are. Ryan Day is legitimately better than each of the remaining coaches on the schedule, as well as any Big Ten West coach they could face in the title game.
CFP or Bust
There are a number of other Buckeyes who will be important for a championship run. Any of the safeties are important and Lathan Ransom has made a name for himself of late. A cornerback needs to separate himself with Denzel Burke struggling. Could we see a late-season surge of productivity from Jack Sawyer or J.T. Tuimoloau?
Regardless, only a few games remain and only a few teams have a legitimate shot at CFP greatness. The first rankings come out on November 1st. These Ohio State x-factors can help the Buckeyes run the table, capture another Big Ten title, and earn a shot at the College Football Playoff.
READ MORE: Re-Ranking the Big Ten since integration.