As Wisconsin was using its power rushing game to key a victory, the Buckeyes primarily went with a five-man rotation on the defensive line in an effort to stop the Badgers. That fact was not lost on head coach Jim Tressel, who found himself defending his depth at a position that usually rolls eight deep at OSU.
"I can remember many times we've talked since last February that one of the concerns was that five of our eight in our eight-man rotation were graduating or going out early, one of the two," he said Tuesday. "So, yes, we were concerned about would we mature to the point where we could get into an eight-man rotation."
The roll call of missing players is extensive. Team captain Doug Worthington, current Pittsburgh Steeler Thaddeus Gibson and key reserves Todd Denlinger, Rob Rose and Lawrence Wilson have moved on. In their places stand a number of underclassmen.
Highly touted though those underclassmen may be, the Buckeyes did not call their numbers in key situations against the Badgers. Instead, the only reserve to see significant action was freshman Johnathan Hankins, who assisted on one tackle.
"What you get into in a ball game like this is, you know, is it the right time and the right place to put someone in?" Tressel said. "Obviously the conclusion that was drawn in that drive in particular or in that game was that certain guys played, certain guys didn't."
Among those who did not see much action were sophomore Garrett Goebel and redshirt freshman Adam Bellamy while junior Solomon Thomas did not see any action. None of those three players recorded a statistic. In a win against the Badgers last season, Wilson and Gibson each had a sack as Wilson came off the bench.
Instead, it was the starting lineup of Nathan Williams, Dexter Larimore, Cameron Heyward and Johnny Simon that saw the bulk of the playing time. Simon said he still feels the position is one of great depth for the Buckeyes. After the unit watched the game film, the problem was a lot of little things gone wrong, he said.
"Our guys are always ready to step up and make some big plays," said Simon, who had six tackles in the loss. "I would say just people every so often not executing well. Little things here and there. It's always the little things."
Asked for an example of the little things he was referring to, Simon said, "being in the right place at the right time."
With a younger bunch up front, Tressel said some growing pains are expected but added that he does not feel defensive coordinator and line coach Jim Heacock is disappointed with his unit.
"That's probably been something we've talked about as much as anything is that if we were going to progress to become the team we would like to be, we have to grow fast with some of the younger guys," the coach said. "That's still our goal. I don't think (Heacock) would tell you that he's disappointed with the progression of Adam or Garrett or Solomon Thomas or anyone, but he just, at the moment, felt like that wasn't the best decision."
Of the trio of Bellamy, Goebel and Thomas, Bellamy leads with nine tackles including two tackles for a loss. Thomas earned the start in the first two games of the season in relief of an injured Williams and has eight tackles while Goebel has two tackles this season.
Following the loss, Heyward said the unit got tired as the Badgers continued to experience success running the football.
"I think our defensive line play and our defense didn't capitalize when we had them third and short," the team captain said. "We just didn't get off the field. I think our defense got worn down as the game went on but that's when we have to step up. We did not do that today."
With an average margin of victory at 29.7 points per contest, Tressel said the coaches have had opportunities to get their younger players some significant action. It just might not pay off until further down the line.
"(Our starters) probably haven't played as many quarters of football in seven games as maybe we have in seven games (last season)," he said. "We've worked hard at getting extra guys in in those games where we could and that type of thing."
Now the trick is to turn that experience into the type of production that can shut down a rushing attack like the one Wisconsin deployed. Tressel pointed out that the Badgers did not rush for an outlandish total – 184 yards on 43 carries – but said there is work that needs to be done on the defensive line.
Simon said it was nothing the Buckeyes did not expect to see going into the contest.
"I think everyone experiences games like that," he said. "You can't take anything away from Wisconsin. They came and played real well and they've got a great team. It's just execution."