With the start of the college football season now just a month away, preseason All-American and award watch lists are being released as prognosticators take their best shots at identifying who will headline the 2023 season at each position.
Perhaps no position group has been easier to project this summer than wide receiver, where Ohio State junior Marvin Harrison Jr. returns after a dominant 2022 season that saw him catch 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns. Harrison’s remarkable sophomore campaign was highlighted by a three-touchdown performance at Michigan State and a 106-yard, two-touchdown performance against Georgia in the Peach Bowl before he was forced to leave the game in the third quarter after suffering a concussion.
By all accounts, Harrison is expected to again be among the best players in the country, regardless of position, in what will almost assuredly be his final season in Columbus before heading to the NFL. But with 2022 firmly in the rearview mirror, and an entire offseason allowing opposing coaching staffs to scheme against him, Harrison’s path to postseason honors — perhaps even the Heisman Trophy — will be increasingly difficult as he becomes the unquestioned focus of every gameplan. Harrison will surely see a steady dose of double teams, and while he’s talented enough to defeat them, the final statline may fall short of the lofty expectations placed on him.
Ever the humble team player, none of that seems to matter to Harrison, of course. Speaking with the media as part of last week’s Big Ten Media Days, Harrison was asked often about the added attention he can expect to see this fall. At every turn, he insisted the double teams he will face bodes well for the other highly-talented players that fill the Ohio State receivers’ room.
“If I’m out there and I’m drawing two defenders, I’m doing my part in the game,” Harrison said last Wednesday. “I might not have the 100 yards or touchdowns that may be expected of me, but if I’m impacting the game by drawing two defenders and getting other receivers one-on-one, I’m doing my part. That’s just how I kind of look at it.”
Heralded for his relentless work ethic, Harrison has said his focus this offseason has been getting better after the catch, which will serve him well in maximizing the opportunities he does see in single coverage. But yards after the catch and on-field production haven’t been Harrison’s only area of emphasis this offseason.
With C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Paris Johnson Jr., and Luke Wypler all now in NFL training camps, Ohio State lost a significant amount of leadership from last year’s prolific offense. And as the quarterback position remains unsettled for the Buckeyes, Harrison will need to be a calm, guiding voice in the huddle as Ohio State navigates a tranisitional period and a difficult schedule.
“(Strength coach) Mick (Marotti) has been pushing me to be more of a vocal leader, especially in the locker room,” Harrison said. “I’m more of a quiet guy and kind of lead by example, but coach Mick has me speaking to the team and speaking to the workout group … I’ve definitely grown a lot in that area thanks to coach Mick.”
Of course, while ample leadership is a critical element to any team’s success, the quickest way in which Harrison can help the offense remain among the elite groups in college football is by being the same matchup nightmare he’s been since bursting onto the scene in the 2022 Rose Bowl Game. Try as defenses might to take him out of games, Harrison’s head coach knows there can’t be any excuses for not getting the ball into the hands of the team’s best player.
“We talked about it yesterday as a staff. We can’t, at the end of the game, look down at the stat sheet and say Marvin touched (the ball) once or twice,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said last week. “That’s not acceptable. We have to figure out ways to get him the ball.”
At the same time, Day also knows what Harrison’s mere presence on the field will do to open up the rest of the offense.
“If we’re in 3-by-1 (formation) and he’s in the boundary, they have to double team him,” Day added. “There aren’t a lot of people who can cover him. There probably aren’t some people in the NFL who can cover him; he’s that talented of a player. We’re very fortunate to have him.
“So there are going to be times when he dictates coverage, but there will also be times when Emeka (Egbuka) dictates coverage. I mean, (Egbuka) has had one of the more productive years last year than anyone in Ohio State history. He’s a really good player, and the same thing with TreVeyon (Henderson) at tailback. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams play us. There are going to be times when the quarterback has to find the one-on-one (matchup). But we also need to do a great job as an offensive staff of finding ways to get touches to our playmakers.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.