Buckeye Pressure Cracked Razorbacks

With high expectations entering the season, the Ohio State defensive line was disappointed with the pressure it put on opposing quarterbacks throughout most of 2010. So the Buckeyes took out some of their frustrations on Arkansas in the first game of 2011, a 31-26 triumph over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

Quarterback Ryan Mallett was sacked four times and hit countless others as the Buckeyes overwhelmed the Razorback offensive line for much of the game.

Leading the charge was nose guard Dexter Larimore, an unlikely candidate as the team's resident run-stuffer. The senior got to Mallett twice as the Buckeyes mixed up their attacks and their defensive fronts.

Alternating between three- and four-man fronts, the Buckeyes blitzed at times but mostly relied on the defensive line to provide the pressure. That they did through both power and trickery, the latter including one of Larimore's sacks when he ran around the Razorbacks' left tackle and hit Mallett from his blindside.

Larimore looped around the outside because defensive coordinator Jim Heacock called a twist to take advantage of the Arkansas tackles cheating outside to respect the speed of OSU pass rushers such as Cameron Heyward, John Simon and Nathan Williams.

"We were running a lot of twists because we saw their tackles kind of bailed a little bit so we tried to change it up some because they were double-teaming me and then kind of leaving Cam or Johnny free on the edge so we wanted to give those end guys opportunities to come up and under and kind of beat a guy that way," Larimore said.

The accumulation of pressure on Mallett likely contributed to the most important defensive play of the night.

Two plays after a blocked punt put the Razorbacks in business at the Ohio State 18-yard line facing a five-point deficit with :58 seconds left, Heacock dialed up a heavy blitz after Arkansas adjustments had blunted some of the pressure in the second half.

"We were getting after him in that first half but in the second half they made some adjustments," Larimore said. "They started picking us up and we kind of changed some things going into the last half of the third quarter and the fourth quarter to kind of combat what they were doing. I think we frustrated them a little bit early but there was a point in the game where we needed a lot better pressure."

On the fateful final play, Heacock sent a boatload of defenders at Mallett, who had already thrown for 277 yards and two touchdowns. The junior responded by hitting Ohio State defensive end Solomon Thomas between the ‘9' and the ‘8' on his chest. He appeared to throw the ball before he had to and paid with a game-clinching interception.

"I'm still surprised," linebacker Brian Rolle said. "Like, ‘How did he catch the ball?' I didn't know it until I looked at the screen and saw the replay. That was amazing. That was ridiculous. When I heard the cheer, I was like, ‘They scored.' You're thinking with man-to-man coverage, if the quarterback sits back there for five seconds he could pick somebody apart. Then I looked up and our guys were head bumpin' and all that and I saw we just got the ball back. It was ugly but we got it."

Added linebacker Ross Homan, who came the closest to Mallett before he unloaded the ball, "It's a man-pressure blitz so those DBs, their butts are on the line. They're on an island so we have to get pressure on the QB to make him make a mistake like that. Solomon made a great, great catch and sealed the game."

Thomas, one of the five players suspended five games to begin next season in relation to NCAA violations for selling memorabilia and accepting discounted services, appreciated the chance to come through for seniors such as Rolle, Homan and Larimore. The players involved in the NCAA punishment all expressed a desire to help them go out on a wining note as a reason they were happy their suspensions don't begin until next season.

"I was so thankful because in that defense one of our seniors has to come out, Dexter Larimore," Thomas said. "This is his senior year and I'm going in for him in his last game so I was just so thankful I didn't let him down and was able to send him out with a victory. Coach Heacock always stresses to us to send these seniors out the right way so I was thankful to be on the field and make a play for my seniors."

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