The Palaie Gaoteote IV transfer to Ohio State is all but official.
The senior linebacker from USC is already enrolled at Ohio State, and is already on campus. As of yet there has been no official announcement, but that only seems to be a formality at this point.
Gaoteote had been at USC for the last three seasons, but Ohio State tried to recruit him out of high school. He began playing high school football in Hawai’i, where he won the state championship as a freshman. For the rest of high school, he moved to Nevada to play for Bishop Gorman, where he won three state championships and two national championships.
Gaoteote was a five star recruit, and the top inside linebacker in the country, according to 247Sports composite. Naturally, he got offers from the best programs in college football. His final decision came down to USC and Ohio State, and he chose the former.
However, his career has not gone the way he thought it would. He has missed significant playing time in each of his three seasons at USC due to injury. So Ohio State got a second chance at Gaoteote, and this time he’s headed to Columbus.
No doubt his cousin, Haskell Garrett, helped him with his decision.
Regardless, the Buckeyes are about to add one more linebacker to the group. Now that he’s in Columbus, what can Gaoteote give Ohio State?
What Palaie Gaoteote Gives Ohio State
What Gaoteote brings
Gaoteote is a prototypical size for an inside linebacker at 6-2 and 250 pounds. Combine that size with his aggressive nature, and you have a heavy hitter.
He adds the most to the current linebacker group in rushing defense. Ohio State has had a solid run defense over the last two years, but five of the linebackers that helped make that happen are on NFL rosters now. In fact, his closest Ohio State comparison would be Malik Harrison, who was a great run-stopper until he became a third round pick for the Ravens in 2020.
Gaoteote will probably start out at Harrison’s WILL spot, either stuffing the run or setting the edge. He can use his big frame to plug gaps, and can hold his own against smaller offensive linemen. Gaoteote also uses his size to stop running backs in their tracks. Running backs rarely fall forward for extra yardage against Gaoteote.
He also has a high motor, so if his initial burst doesn’t get to the runner, he keeps pursuing until the play is over.
Passing defense is more of a question mark for Gaoteote. In three years at USC, he doesn’t have a single interception or pass defended. He is good enough to occupy a zone, but he can’t match up man-to-man against a running back. But since Ohio State likes to play zone in the middle of the field, this won’t be much a concern.
How Ohio State Will Use Gaoteote
The most obvious spot for him would be at WILL, where he can just crash down on the line of scrimmage. USC moved him there from MIKE after his freshman year, fitting his aggressive playing style. He will be competing with Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope for playing time there. The advantage he has is that he has actually started a college football game, which no one else in the Buckeyes’ current linebacker room can say.
Since he didn’t even get to practice in the spring, it’s quite possible he doesn’t play very many snaps in the beginning of the season. But, Ohio State could design some packages for running situations that would get Gaoteote on the field.
The closest path to starting would be through MIKE, where Tommy Eichenburg and Mitchell Melton started in the Spring Game. That’s a spot of concern for Ohio State, as even long snapper Roen McCullough got snaps there during the Spring Game. Dallas Gant is the presumed starter, but has missed time this spring due to a foot injury. He should be back by September, but that might be the opening that Gaoteote needs.
For the time being, Gaoteote will be a rotational player. He will be a backup, but the first linebacker off the bench. Once he learns the defense and plays well when he does have the opportunity, then he can make the case to be a full-time player.