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Better Know Your Bowl Opponent: Ohio State

The reward for Mizzou’s transcendent season is to face off against one of the greatest college football programs in history.

Ohio State v Purdue Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

What were you doing on September 19, 1998?

I was probably playing Banjo-Kazooie on my N64. That’s a pretty good general guess for any specific date during that year.

Blake Baker was most likely showing off his newly minted driver’s license. Eli Drinkwitz was surely talking smack to his junior varsity football team.

Kirby Moore was 7. None of the players currently on the Missouri Tigers football team were born.

Missouri was getting bludgeoned by Ohio State, 35-14. Corby Jones was nearly murdered to death by Andy Katzenmoyer.

It was the last time Mizzou played one of the preeminent powers of the college football world, and the lack of run ins with this hegemon of the B1G is certainly not missed by Mizzou’s schedule.

Unlike previous bowl opponents Missouri has faced off against, you - regardless of who you are, how old you are, where you live, or your level of college football knowledge - know exactly who this opponent is. Owner of the best winning percentage of all time. Eight national championships. 39 conference championships. 92 consensus All-Americans. Seven Heisman winners. The program with the most 1st-Round NFL Draft picks (90) and weeks spent in the AP poll (981). A program so ubiquitous that they trademarked the world “the”.

Ohio State is the elite among the elite, and even in down times, merely one “okay”-level hire away from getting right back to conference and national title-contending levels.

Do you want to know what that level of elite play looks like in SP+ form? Cool, here you go:

Ohio State’s Historical SP Performance

Their worst year — a 6-7 year featuring a surprise interim stint by current Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell following an abrupt resignation by Jim Tressel — featured an Ohio State team that was 13.2 points better than the average college football team that year. For context, Ohio State’s worst year since 2005 would qualify as the 9th-best season for Missouri during that same time period. In fact, Ohio State’s levels of dominance over this period are at the levels of what Georgia is currently doing under Kirby Smart...but stretched over ten more years than what the Bulldogs have done.

They’re really good, is the point. And while I wouldn’t want to play them every year, it’s fun that Mizzou gets the chance to avenge their 1-10-1 record against the poisonous nuts in this one-off exhibition game.

Coaching Staff

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Ryan Day - 5th Year - 56-7 (39-3)

Clemson, Alabama, Oregon, Michigan, Georgia. Five of the best programs in the country. Elite recruiters, national title winning (or, in Oregon’s case, appearing) programs, conference winning dynamos. What else do they have in common? They’re the only programs to ever beat Ryan Day at Ohio State.

And yet there are people who want him fired. It’s just a different level of crazy when you’re a blue blood program.

Then again, if Eli Drinkwitz never lost another SEC game but routinely lost the first playoff game and dropped three in a row against kansas, I’m sure there’d be some itchy trigger fingers in Columbia, MO.

Regardless, the fifth-year head man in Columbus didn’t always have the luxury of operating with such an advantage over his peers. After graduating from New Hampshire where he played as a quarterback and linebacker, Day worked his way through the GA ranks of schools in the northeast, cutting his teeth at Boston College and Temple for 11 years. He then took a life raft from Chip Kelly to join him in the NFL, jumping on to Kelly’s doomed final staff at Philadelphia before enduring another tortuous losing season when his boss took over at San Francisco. That seemed to have soured the NFL for our boy Ryan as he quickly accepted a co-coordinator job with Urban Meyer, just in time for Urbz to briefly relinquish duties in 2018 and let Day get some experience running the show as acting head coach. Once Meyer retired because he was a gigantic turd of a human being for “health reasons” Day was given the full time gig and hasn’t looked back since.

Coach Day’s Resume

Assistant Staff

Brian Hartline - Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers: The lauded and beloved former Buckeye receiver has been renowned for his recruiting capabilities* and history of getting his guys drafted in the NFL. After a brief stint as a professional, Hartline started as a GA before getting tabbed as Ohio State’s receivers coach with the...dismissal...of yet another garbage person, Zach Smith. He then got a pay bump and title change in ‘21 to passing game coordinator, before becoming coordinator earlier this year. While this is the worst offense Ohio State has fielded in the Day era, it doesn’t seem to be a situation where Hartline is being blamed. Yet.

Jim Knowles - Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers: Jim Knowles’ rise in the college football ranks has been elongated when you look at the macro but meteoric in the micro. Knowles was a renowned defensive mind in the Ivy League, turning Cornell into massively disruptive unit for five years during the mid-aughts. That earned him a look from Duke where he deployed fun, aggressive defenses with the limitation that smart-kid schools provide. He was then plucked away by Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, and after three years of some of the best defenses the Cowboys have ever seen in the Gundy era, Knowles was hired to do the same at Ohio State. After a debut season where his defense ranked 23rd in the country, this year he fields a unit that currently ranks 3rd. Yes, that’s better than Georgia.

Parker Fleming - Special Teams Coordinator

Corey Dennis - Quarterbacks

Tony Alford - Running Backs

Keenan Bailey - Tight Ends

Justin Frye - Offensive Line

Larry Johnson - Defensive Line

Tim Walton - Cornerbacks

Perry Eliano - Safeties

*Is it possible to be a terrible recruiter when you recruit for Ohio State? Just curious.

Offense

When you think “Ohio State Offense” in context of the Meyer+ years, you think of a dynamic, mobile quarterback throwing to a fleet of rangy receivers, paired with a two or three-headed rushing attack that swaps out guys with no drop off, capable of blowing holes in defenses for 10-15 yards a pop. And, to be fair, that’s still mostly true in ‘23. The problem, then, is that the depth isn’t quite where it used to be. Is Marvin Harrison Jr. otherworldly? Yes, of course. But while Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming were good in moments, they didn’t provide nearly the same level of threat that Harrison does. Is TreVeyon Henderson a top tier running back? You bet. But Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams together averaged nearly a full 2-yards less per carry than Henderson and were worse in almost every statistical category. That situation is very common for college teams, mind you; it just happens to be unheard of from Ohio State. And when you add a leaky offensive line that struggles in short-yardage situations and at opening holes for their backs, and you have a surprisingly “merely good” offense from a team that should always be elite.

And that’s before mentioning any potential NFL Draft holdouts or the fact that seven offensive players are in the portal, including their starting quarterback.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Quarterback - Devin Brown - Redshirt Freshman

Devin Brown Stats

So let’s get some caveats out of the way. First, I’m assuming that Kyle McCord being in the transfer portal means he ain’t going to play. Which means I’m also assuming the only quarterback with more than a year of experience on the team and 5 passes attempted will be the starter in McCord’s absence. So, yes, Devin Brown is my guess at the Buckeyes’ starting signal caller in the game. And yes, he wears the number 33 as a tribute to TCU QB Sammy Baugh and claims that 33 is “the original quarterback number”. Brown is a bit of an unknown thanks to small sample sizes but we know he likes to run, we know he isn’t very accurate when throwing, and we know he hasn’t done much to impress in his brief appearances. Mizzou will need to be prepared for mucho-QB-runs, something that gashed them when Florida took them to the limit back in November.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Running Back - TreVeyon Henderson - Junior

The question for this position group is simple— “Does TreVeyon Henderson declare for the Draft and sit this game out?” I’m not an NFL guy but after a brief perusal of news items it sounds like Henderson is projected in the 3rd-4th rounds (pre-work outs, of course) and could use another year in college. At the same time, running backs rarely improve their draft stock in college and have a limited shelf life in the pros as it is. Ohio State already lost their second-most utilized running back, Chip Trayanum, to the portal on December 6th and a deep depth piece in Evan Pryor on the 4th. And don’t forget about their third back, Miyan Williams, was lost for the year in November and already declared for the Draft. That would leave little-used Dallan Hayden and his 19 carries on the season as the only other option that has had game experience this year. Henderson is legitimately great, especially against 7-man boxes and running through contact, so his decision will greatly affect the Buckeyes’ ability to run the ball in this game.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Wide Receiver - Marvin Harrison Jr. - Junior

The other big question for this offense surrounds Marvin Harrison Jr.’s interest in playing. The Biletnikoff winner is one of the most impactful receivers in the country, and his absence would leave a 1,200+ yard hole in the Buckeye offense, especially since the next highest yard getter is tight end Cade Stover with 52 targets and 576 yards. Julian Fleming, the third-most targeted receiver, and little-used tight end Joe Royer are currently the only portal losses from the receiving group but no player from this group has been able to be as consistently great as Harrison has. There’s a rumor that Harrison and Henderson are being offered 1st-Round Draft pick money (plus endorsement deals) to stick around for another year in Columbus. In case you’re curious, that would be $25 million each to play college one more year, and that would just be the signing bonus that a 1st-Rounder gets, let alone the salary plus pro-level endorsements. I highly doubt that those two are getting that much money thrown at them, but regardless of actual dollar figures ,it shows that Ohio State is trying to flex their money to keep their most dynamic athletes on the team and engaged for this game and next year. If Harrison doesn’t play the task of stopping the Buckeye offense becomes easier, but they still have a ton of blue chip talents to trot out, so it’s not like it will be actually “easy”.

Defense

This is the second-best defense a Ryan Day team has fielded and, boy, isn’t he lucky that he was able to achieve that right when his offense decided to decline! Trying to pick out a weakness in this group is a fool’s errand. No, they don’t create turnovers as much as other defenses, but it doesn’t matter because they are accurate tacklers, swarm quickly to stop the easy stuff, and stick to their man and eliminate any chance of big plays occurring. The portal losses on this side are minimal as well, as there’s only one guy in the portal group of six who saw more than 30 snaps on the year. There’s only two guys on this defense that don’t have at least three years of experience so there is a chance you see a string of Draft declarations and subsequent sit-outs, but it hasn’t happened yet. And Jim Knowles is one of the best defensive coordinators out there; they’ll be excellent regardless.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Ohio State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive End - J.T. Tuimoloau - Junior

J.T. Tuimoloau is one of the more terrifying edge rushers out there. He’s a havoc machine, both in hitting dues and breaking up passes, and is an absolute force to handle, creating quarterback pressures on 10.4% of his pass rushes. Jack Sawyer, who plays the appropriately named “JACK” pass rushing position, is equally terrifying and somehow more destructive in the pass rush, creating pressures 12% of the time coming off the opposite edge. And, for fun, both Buckeye interior linemen provide excellent pressure up the middle as well, the one place that quarterbacks hate pressure the most. Mizzou’s offensive line has absolutely improved this year but will have that improvement pushed to the limit.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Linebacker - Tommy Eichenberg - Graduate Student

There’s just something so pleasantly Midwestern about a big, lumbering white guy with a lengthy German (or Polish) last name hitting dudes as hard as possible from the inside linebacker spot. And that seems to be a specialty at Ohio State! Our boy Tommy is actually one of the better linebackers at creating quarterback pressures but very rarely does it; instead he’s content with being second on the team in tackles, third in total snaps played, and being one of the most accurate tacklers in the game. His battery mate on the outside, Steele Chambers, leads the team in tackles and is equally happy to let the pass rushing go to the guys up front and happily clean up their messes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Safety - Davison Igbinosun - Sophomore

It’s rare to have a cornerback rank in the Top 5 tacklers on a defense, but Davison Igbinosun also leads the defense in snaps played so he’s about as reliable a playmaker as you can get. The Ole Miss transfer is one of the rare Buckeye defenders that isn’t a junior but does great work at eliminating his receiver, holding opponents to a 43% completion rate and 44.9 QBR, while also coming up and assisting in defending the run. Whichever of Mizzou’s receivers draw Igbinosun’s assignment has their work cut out for them.

Conclusion

Because of the swirl of uncertainty around Ohio State’s roster management, Vegas has moved the line from an early Mizzou +6.5 to a surprisingly favorable Mizzou -1.5. That’s not a crazy happenstance: Harrison and Henderson are NFL-caliber players and the current iterations of the rest of the roster might be that good eventually but haven’t shown it yet. Also, regardless of the perceived quality, losing your starting quarterback is never a good thing for your chances at winning.

But there is an entire second unit Ohio State fields and it’s elite and there’s been fewer rumors about sit-outs. This game could be a defensive slugfest given the availability of play makers and strengths of both teams.

At the end of the day: this game rocks. I don’t want to be fatalist or somehow bring down the mood but, the win and the fun is that Mizzou is at this game in the first place. Even with players sitting out, most people will think that the Tigers will lose and, if they do, so what? But if they win? Man...just another magical moment in a season full of them.

Your team is playing one of the best programs in the history of the sport and they’re doing so in an elite-tiered bowl game. What a season, huh?