It almost doesn’t matter where you look on Ohio State’s football team, you’re going to see a true freshman making an impact.
The most notable of the first-year players is running back TreVeyon Henderson, who leads the team with 503 yards rushing on 53 carries. He is averaging 100.6 yards rushing per game despite carrying the ball just two times in the season opener against Minnesota, and just eight times in each of the Buckeyes’ last two games.
And despite being 14th in the Big Ten in rushing attempts (53), he is fifth in yardage (503) and fifth in yards rushing per game. Henderson’s 9.4 yards per carry also leads the conference and is second nationally among players who average at least 10 carries per game.
It is already feeling like “as goes TreVeyon Henderson, so go the Buckeyes,” and that’s a pretty bold statement to make about a true freshman.
But he’s far from the only true freshman making an impact for Ohio State this year.
Denzel Burke became the first true freshman cornerback to start the season opener for the Buckeyes since William White back in the early 1980s, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Wait, that’s actually not true because he is looking back plenty, and it has helped him lead the team with seven passes defended. That number is good for second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally. And he’d be tied for fourth nationally and also tied for the Big Ten lead had replay officials not overturned an interception and somehow called it a completion earlier in the season.
Burke has arguably been the surprise of the bunch, but hasn’t been a surprise to anybody inside the Ohio State program. He was making plays from just about the moment he arrived. Like Willie Mays Hayes waking up and tearing off down the first-base line, Burke has been a focused blur ever since.
Defensive end JT Tuimoloau didn’t arrive until later in the summer and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the timing of his arrival delayed the impact he would have this year. Turns out it didn’t really impact him much because he’s been in the starting lineup the last two weeks.
Injuries to teammates have been a major reason why he is in the lineup, but it is still very impressive that defensive line coach Larry Johnson turned to him so quickly when he was the newest defensive end of the bunch. The experience he is getting now will almost certainly turn him into an increasingly productive player as the season progresses.
One of the stars of the defensive line continues to be freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams. Williams may not start, but he sure does finish.
Williams currently leads the Buckeyes in sacks (4) and is tied for the team lead with Haskell Garrett in tackles for loss (4.5). Williams has done this despite missing the season opener at Minnesota and only playing three snaps against Oregon.
He has put up his four sacks in just 73 snaps over the last three games. That’s just over one-third of the snaps Garrett has played this season and less than half the snaps that Antwuan Jackson has received so far this season. Over these last three games, however, Williams is seeing his role increase and there’s absolutely no reason for that to stop at this point.
There have also been various contributions and glimpses from receiver Emeka Egbuka, running back Evan Pryor, defensive end Jack Sawyer, offensive lineman Donovan Jackson, and quarterback Kyle McCord. It’s only a matter of time for others, like receiver Marvin Harrison and cornerbacks Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock. And let’s not forget the punting of freshman Jesse Mirco.
The more experience these freshmen get, the more comfortable they will be and the more production you’ll see.
But the production is already pretty significant.
Here are some major statistical categories and what percentage of those totals belong to this true freshman class.
Passes Defended: 23.7%
Clearly, the future is bright for the Buckeyes thanks to this true freshman class.
If you want to get really bright, however, we can also adjust these numbers to include redshirt freshmen. If we do that, the percentages look like this.
Passes Defended: 42.1%
And we don’t need to get into the fact that any player currently considered a sophomore is still technically a freshman in the eyes of the NCAA. But if you would like to see what the percentages look like when it comes to players who could technically be considered freshmen if they would choose to use their extra year of eligibility, here you go.
Passes Defended: 73.7%
Steering this back to the current freshman class, there was always confidence that they would be a good group, but few expected so many of them to be getting starts at this point in time. Some of those starts have come because of injury, but it’s still an accomplishment to be able to handle a starting role as a rookie. Nobody is starting by default. The Ohio State coaches turned to their best options at every position and we’ve now seen four members of the 2021 recruiting class start games on offense or defense for the Buckeyes.
Given the way Tyleik Williams is playing, that number may grow to five by the end of the season.
And it may grow larger than that. Injuries happen every week and this class has shown that they can be called upon whenever necessary.
This is a mature group of freshmen that came to Ohio State expecting to play, and the fact that so many of them are playing right now is no surprise to the individuals involved.
For them, the only surprise is that people may have doubted their ability to come in and contribute immediately.
That doubt is now gone and the only question remaining is who is going to be the next freshman to break out.