It may have been a surprise to some when redshirt sophomore Mike Hall got the start at nose tackle for the Buckeyes last week against Notre Dame, but it wasn’t a surprise to anybody who had been to practice.
All throughout fall camp and the preseason, Hall had proven to be a disruptive force against an Ohio State offensive line that has designs on being one of the nation’s best.
Facing a new offensive line in the Irish a week ago, the 6-foot-2, 290-pound Hall stuck to his riotous ways and made life miserable for Notre Dame. He finished with four tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and a quarterback hurry.
Hall only found out a few days before the game that he would be in the starting lineup. That didn’t change his demeanor, however, because he was set on giving his all either way.
His performance also hasn’t changed the minds of his teammates, who have grown accustomed to seeing him make life miserable for an offense.
“He’s just a special player,” senior defensive end Zach Harrison said during post-practice interviews on Wednesday. “One of those guys that when you see him do stuff on the field, you acknowledge — especially being around for a while — not everybody can do that. I feel like he’s starting to realize that more and more as he’s making plays.”
What is it about him that makes him special?
“He’s explosive,” Harrison said. “Like he’s got explosion like wide receivers, DBS.”
Sitting next to Harrison was fellow defensive end JT Tuimoloau, who had his own thoughts on the matter.
“Baby Aaron Donald, that’s what I’ve been saying,” Tuimoloau said, comparing Hall to the best defensive tackle in the NFL.
“That’s a crazy comparison,” Harrison replied. “But for real, 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.”
It was at that moment during the session that senior cornerback Cameron Brown walked over and poked his head between the two pass rushers.
“We’re talking about Mike bro,” Harrison told him.
“Oh Mike? That’s a dog right there,” Brown said. “Looks like Aaron Donald to me.”
“I just said that,” Tuimoloau laughed.
“We literally just said the same thing,” Harrison added.
Anybody can watch the game and see the impact that Hall made against the Irish. They see the explosion and power and speed, but how does that affect an offensive lineman who is tasked with blocking him?
“Well, with Mike, it’s hard to set on him because he could easily beat you with speed, so you’ve got to get your depth,” sophomore guard Donovan Jackson explained. “But then once you get your depth, he can beat you with power because he’s about as strong as anybody else on this team. So whenever Mike lines up on me I always get my antennas up because I know if I’m not on my A-game, he’s gonna be high-fiving CJ in the backfield.”
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, it won’t be quarterback CJ Stroud who has to worry about Mike Hall on Saturday. Instead, it will be Arkansas State quarterback James Blackmon, who will be hoping his Red Wolves offensive line can give him enough time to at least get out of the way before big No. 51 comes looking for that aforementioned high-five.