It's not that the schools all have animals as team nicknames, even though that is true. It's that the Redhawks, Huskies and Panthers are the only three teams in NCAA Division I play that have allowed more sacks than Ohio State has this season. The Buckeyes have allowed Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller to be sacked 33 times, most in the Big Ten and four more than any other conference team.
In conference play, Ohio State is still the worst. The Buckeyes have allowed 28 sacks in six league games.
There are many factors as to why. Ohio State have first-year starters at both guard positions and have had to play without returning left tackle Mike Adams for the first five games of the season and incumbent right tackle J.B. Shugarts last week against Purdue. The Buckeyes have also had to protect a quarterback in Miller who has sometimes made the freshman mistake of holding onto the football in the pocket for too long.
Then there's the issue senior center Michael Brewster has brought up in several of his postgame interviews: The fact that most defenses Ohio State has faced this season are stacking the line of scrimmage. Opponents bring up their safeties, expecting the Buckeyes to run instead of pass. That often brings at least one more rusher than the line can block.
"It's definitely challenging but it's something that we've been putting up with week in and week out," Brewster said.
Ohio State heads into Saturday's Senior Day game against Penn State coming off its third Big Ten loss of the season, a 26-23 overtime defeat at Purdue. Sacks played a factor. The Boilermakers recorded five sacks of Miller, including a crucial one that cost OSU 5 yards in overtime and forced the offense into a third-and-16 from the 31-yard line. Miller recovered from the sack and completed a 15-yard strike to T.Y. Williams, but that was short of the first down and the Buckeyes elected to kick a field goal.
Purdue then went on to earn the victory with a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Robert Marve on its offensive possession.
"It's just something we have to try to clean up," Brewster said of the sacks against Purdue, which included three by defensive lineman Kawann Short. "(Short) was coming off the end and doing some things. We just have to fix that."
The struggles against the Boilermakers weren't the worst Ohio State has faced, either. Michigan State notched nine sacks against the Buckeyes on Oct. 1 as the Spartans earned a 10-7 victory. OSU was without Adams, who was serving the last of his five-game NCAA suspension.
Ohio State hopes to have its offensive line back to its usual starting lineup against Penn State. Shugarts practiced on Tuesday and could be back at right tackle alongside Jack Mewhort, who moved to tackle during the Purdue game when freshman Antonio Underwood struggled in Shugarts' place.
"He's still a little sore, but I'm sure he's going to do whatever he can to be on the field on Saturday," Brewster said of Shugarts.
"We missed him last week," Brewster added. "He knows the offense really well, and he's always in the right place where he needs to be. Hopefully he'll be alright."
On the left of Brewster will be sophomore guard Andrew Norwell, who started the season at left tackle in place of Adams before moving inside.
"This is the last home game here for the seniors so we have to do it one more time at home and grind out a victory," Brewster said.
Brewster added that the line should also get a big boost from the return of senior DeVier Posey. The wide receiver missed the first 10 games of the season because of a NCAA suspension. His return could help the OSU offense loosen up opposing defenses. Opponents can't stack the line of scrimmage with Posey posing a threat in the secondary.
Even so, Penn State will likely still bring plenty of pressure on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have recorded 24 sacks this season, third best in the Big Ten behind Illinois and Michigan State. Linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Devon Still bring the bulk of that pressure, recording 4½ and 4 sacks respectively.
"(Stacking the box) is something that we've kind of gotten used to now," Brewster said. "They know what we're going to do and we have to continue to just try and grind it out and get the job done anyways. Getting DeVier back definitely adds a threat out there, so hopefully that will help us on Saturday."