After a third straight season with a loss to Michigan, Ryan Day realized he needed to make some sweeping changes on his roster and his coaching staff. Clearly, the status quo isn’t good enough anymore, and to his credit, he took action.
Not only did Day convince key players like Emeka Egbuka and Denzel Burke to put their inevitable NFL careers on hold to return to play for the Buckeyes next season, but he also moved on from Kyle McCord after an underwhelming season and swapped him out for Will Howard from Kansas State. On top of the roster churn, Day brought in Bill O’Brien former college and NFL head coach to call plays for his offense.
Things will be different in Columbus next year, but the changes shouldn’t end there. These are three players who are projected to have a starting role in 2024 that Day should seek to replace, either internally or through the newly flooded transfer portal.
Ohio State will have a massive upgrade at quarterback going from McCord to Howard. Both are comparable passers in structure. When kept clean, McCord averaged 10.1 yards per attempt with a 72.0% completion rate, 22 touchdowns, and three interceptions while Howard was at 8.1 yards per attempt, completed 67.2% of his passes, and threw 15 touchdowns with six picks.
McCord’s numbers were slightly better, but he was throwing to Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka while Howard’s top receiver was fullback/tight end hybrid Ben Sinnot. Where Howard will provide an upgrade is when the offensive line breaks down. In 2023, Howard ran for 351 yards and nine touchdowns and was only sacked 14 times with a pressure-to-sack ratio of 11.9%.
Howard also averaged 5.4 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns to four picks when pressured. He wasn’t perfect, but he is a playmaker out of structure with his arms and his legs, something McCord was not.
McCord registered -65 rushing yards and only completed 39.7% of his passes when pressured for 4.9 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
So, now back to Carson Hinzman, the young anchor of the Buckeyes offensive line who was benched in the Cotton Bowl. There was speculation that he was benched for his comments in a since-deleted podcast, but the more likely scenario is that he allowed 17 pressures from his center spot, the most of any offensive lineman on the team.
Hinzman was just in his first season as a starter, but after the way he performed it should be his last. Take PFF grades with a grain of salt, but Hinzman had the 16th-lowest pass-blocking grade among over 600 offensive linemen in the entire country who played at least half of their team's snaps. PFF isn’t perfect, but that has to mean something, and not something good.
Howard will be able to perform much better out of structure, but no quarterback can succeed with constant breakdowns from their interior offensive line. McCord was a big problem for the 2023 Buckeyes, but if you want to defend McCord’s issues against pressure, Hinzman’s struggles would be the first thing to point to.
Left tackle Josh Simmons is the one who was taking heat from Ohio State fans this season, but he allowed fewer pressures at a much more difficult position to pass block. With Matthew Jones off to the NFL, the Buckeyes will be enticed to run Hinzman back out there after another offseason of development, but that would be a mistake.