Ohio State’s Michael Hall Jr. is ‘anxious’ to play healthy vs. Georgia, could be X-factor in CFB Playoff

Early in the 2022 season, Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr. received rave reviews. Following six total tackles, five tackles for a loss and two sacks through the first two games, his teammates nicknamed him “Baby Aaron Donald,” a reference to the Los Angeles Rams’ nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“That’s a crazy comparison, but nah for real,” defensive end Zach Harrison said of Hall in mid-September. “I was thinking about that the other day. I’m like, ‘Bro is strong.’ He’s a smaller nose guard, but he’s not weak. He’s got heavy hands, he’s strong.”

Hall’s second year with the Buckeyes didn’t continue how it started, however. After he recorded 13 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a fumble recovery through the first half of the season, the Streetsboro, Ohio native finished the year with 19 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery.

Those are productive numbers for a defensive tackle but after the early production, Hall was slightly disappointed with how the rest of the season played out. Hall did not play in the third game of the year against Toledo and said he got “banged up” in the Week 4 win against Wisconsin. He battled through shoulder injuries throughout the rest of the year.

“I would say, yeah, it definitely plays a huge factor in your head, just a thought process,” the defensive tackle admitted earlier this month. “Just going through it like, ‘Dang, I could of got All-American and all that.’ But, I mean, this is a team sport and I’m willing to do anything to help this team win a national championship because that’s the goal.

“I’d say it’s very frustrating, just dealing with that. But everything happens for a reason. So you just got to take it and just make the best out of it.”

After getting injured, Hall didn’t want to take time off to heal. He spoke with the coaching staff and told them he wanted to continue to play as much as possible.

With advice from the medical staff, the Scarlet and Gray came up with a plan for Hall to get him on the field and maximize his ability. The defensive tackle played just seven snaps in a Week 6 game against Michigan State before Ohio State’s off weekend. The way the Buckeyes used Hall vs. the Spartans worked well, as he managed three tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.

“I felt like it fit me very well,” Hall said of his limited role. “But I always just wonder, like, if I played a couple more snaps this game, what would it do? But you can’t think like that.”

After he played 132 snaps over the first half of the season, Hall was in on just 118 the rest of the year. Over the final four weeks of the season, Hall played no more than 19 snaps in a game on defense.

Hall’s production did not carry over as his playing time became more limited while his shoulder issues continued to bother him. Over the last six games of the year, Hall had just six tackles and recorded no other stats.

Naturally, this was not easy for Hall.

“I would say that the hardest thing is just the mental part about it,” he said. “It’s just dealing with that and just not getting too much in your feelings going on the field. Kind of just got to go back to the rehab room and just get right with our trainers and take the meds you got to take or whatever and just try to do everything you can, whatever. Just try to get back as close to 100 percent.”

Despite a loss to rivals Michigan in the final game of the regular season, a contest in which Hall played just 13 snaps and the Buckeyes allowed 252 rushing yards, the Scarlet and Gray are headed to the College Football Playoff and have a chance to compete for a national title. This game not only gave Ohio State a “new lease on life,” as head coach Ryan Day put it, but also time for a number of Buckeyes who battled injuries to get healthy. This includes Hall.

When the Scarlet and Gray take the field against Georgia on New Year’s Day, it will be 35 days since Ohio State last played. While that is an unusual amount of time to not play a game, it could be a major benefit for Hall.

“I feel a lot better,” the defensive tackle said. “Just having these couple of weeks off leading up to the game, just getting that rest. Our priority is still Georgia but this allows us to get these couple of weeks and just get right.

“I’ll be 100 percent leading up to the game. I feel like these weeks will allow me to get better.”

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There may not be a better time for a healthy Hall to step back into a bigger role on the Buckeye defensive line. The Bulldogs’ offensive line, a finalist for the Joe Moore Award, is among the best in the country. That group allowed quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Stetson Bennett to be sacked just seven times in 2022. The defending national champions also have a rushing offense that is top 20 nationally.

Hall showed early on this season that he has the ability to be a game-wrecker for the Buckeyes. While he certainly would have liked to stay healthy and continue to build on his quick start, a healthier Hall now could play a big role for the Scarlet and Gray on the biggest stage.

“I’m anxious,” Hall said. “I’m ready to get back on the field. I just can’t wait to unleash and just go crazy.”

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