Bank Blog: Quick Thoughts Defense

Ohio State outlasted Wisconsin Saturday, and defeated the Badgers 21-14, in good old-fashioned football. The Buckeye defense stood strong throughout the game, and won the game for Ohio State.

- In the aftermath following Ohio State's 63-38 win over Nebraska, and the next week defeating Indiana 52-49, raise your hand if you predicted the Buckeye defense would be the key to going undefeated because the offense would sputter down the stretch? Me neither.

- The defense saved the day against Purdue in a game that could easily have been lost. The next week they kept Penn State in check for a half while the offense fired blanks, and had Ryan Shazier turn the game with a Pick-Six. And then Saturday, when it was apparent early on that this was a game Ohio State could not afford to give up many points, the defense stepped up and delivered the win. Much of the credit goes to Luke Fickell, and deservedly so. He had to know he was under the gun early, and he has been able to get players to raise their games individually, which raised this defense overall.

- I mentioned last week that three defenders were asked to take their games to another level at halftime of Penn State, and Ryan Shazier, Johnny Simon and Bradley Roby all responded. Having those three playing at "great" instead of "good" has helped cover up weaknesses that were hurting this team early in the year.

- Simon, in particular, is providing the pass rush that was missing early in the year, and he was unblockable against Wisconsin. The sack totals are impressive, but sometimes misleading. Third-down sacks in big situations are game-changers, and Simon does come through in big spots. It might sound outrageous, but he will leave Ohio State as one of the top defensive linemen in school history, which is well deserved.

- As a recruiting analyst, I always get asked about who I root for by different people, and the answer is easy: I root for the guys I've rated highly and bragged about. And it doesn't matter to me what school they're playing for, and that could be Devin Gardner or Ryan Shazier. Regarding Shazier, I bragged him up when he was headed to Florida as a Gator commit and kept on the bandwagon when he switched to Ohio State. I said often that he was just the type of linebacker that we normally don't see at Ohio State, and he has proven that out. Shazier taking his game to All-American status the past four weeks, combined with Zach Boren playing steadily, has stabilized a position group that was pretty bad early in the year. Adding Etienne Sabino back into the mix makes this trio one of the best groups in the Big Ten, but make no mistake, Shazier is the key to the linebacker improvement. His career has gone exactly the way he and his father mapped it out when he was a high school senior, and he is on the fast track to the NFL. Another 5-10 pounds of muscle this off-season gets him where he needs to be.

- While Roby's play has always been impressive and he is so darned good, do not discount Travis Howard, who is playing the best football of his career the past month. Even when the Ohio State secondary was getting torched early in the season, these two were playing fairly well. And both will need to keep it going for one more week.

- I've always loved Christian Bryant's game, even when he drove OSU fans crazy at times with his penalties, missed tackles and missed coverages. Notice how these mistakes have gone away for the most part in the past month? Not a coincidence that CB playing better has contributed greatly to the defense playing better. And C.J. Barnett has been back playing like C.J. Barnett again, which also helps.

- Johnathan Hankins is one heck of a player, and I'm 100% convinced he will be putting on his Buckeye uniform for the last time this Saturday. I think he might be rated a little high by the NFL people, so the decision to go is a good one, but as a college player he isn't Simon. It's crazy to assume he won't be missed, but Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are ready to play in his place. And another year of strength and conditioning will only help both.

- I've always admired Nathan Williams and it's hard to believe he will play his last game this week against Michigan. A lot of people get overlooked in team sports, and I'm not sure people appreciate what he has contributed this season. He is not 100% healthy at all, but he loves playing football and he loves competing. The term "warrior" gets thrown around way too much in sports, but if it applies to anyone on this team it probably is Nathan Williams.

- Michigan will come at Fickell with more "spread" this week than Ohio State has seen lately. Gardner and Denard Robinson are scoreboard-changers, and I expect to see both out there against the Buckeyes. Brady Hoke will probably not specify this week how he plans to use both, but Fickell will need to prepare for everything in a short time span. Gardner will probably be the QB, but don't discount him at WR. Robinson will take snaps at QB, I would guess, but primarily attack Ohio State from the "Percy Harvin" role. Wonder if anyone at Ohio State knows how to stop that? Enjoy the props this week Luke, but don't let Denard and Devin dance all over you next week, or the hot seat returns. It will be a fun week leading up to the Big One.

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