And no one would argue the Buckeyes haven’t been good, but dominant is an adjective that might be hard to justify through four games. In that span, Ohio State has nine sacks, a mark of 2.25 per game that sits tied for 51st in the country.
One week ago, Cincinnati’s pass offense – one that had been gashed at times while banged up by Miami (Ohio) – threw 32 passes and allowed just one sack. In the meantime, the Bearcats hit three long passes, throws from Gunner Kiel that might not have been quite as on target had the Buckeyes been able to get to the quarterback.
Still, Ohio State left that game feeling OK about the pressure it got against UC for a variety of reasons.
“I think we did affect him a lot because Gunner Kiel is a really good quarterback,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “He’s a pocket quarterback. I think they blocked us well. They would double team the nose and bring the back down on the 3-technique and then they would just let the ends run up the field, and he would step up. It took us a while to figure that out, but Joey’s hit I think really got into Gunner’s head because he seemed a little bit more nervous when guys got close to him.”
Ahhh, yes, Joey’s hit was in some ways a game changer. Joey Bosa broke through the Cincinnati line with little resistance for a shot right across the bow of Kiel, a hit that sent the ball flying backward toward the OSU end zone and resulted in a safety that gave OSU a 16-7 lead.
“Yeah it got us going,” Bosa said afterward. “We were a little slow in the beginning, but it got us going definitely. I think we started off very well and that’s our potential. You guys saw it.”
That’s the kind of hit the Buckeyes need more of – the potential, as Bosa might say. Now the quest becomes making that more of a regular occurrence.
Last year, Ohio State finished with 42 sacks, a number that was good for third in the country but one that might have been a little misleading. Because of the Buckeyes’ porous pass defense, teams stuck to the air against OSU, and the team’s sack percentage of 6.83 percent was actually 31st in the nation.
Things are a little flipped this year, in part because of two sacks in six dropbacks vs. Navy. This year, Ohio State sits 51st in the nation in sacks per game but is actually 25th in sack percentage at 7.76.
That’s a good number considering the Buckeyes don’t quite have a go-to guy for pressure so far. Bosa is talented enough to potentially be a top-10 draft pick in 2016, but he has 2.5 sacks in four games, an average of 0.62 per game that sits tied for 10th in the Big Ten.
After that, it’s been a team effort. In just limited action, Raekwon McMillan is second on the team with two sacks, and no one has more than one. The starting line of Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Steve Miller has combined for 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries.
That’s not to say the group has been ineffective; it just hasn’t racked up the lofty numbers many might have expected. Even without first-team All-Big Ten end Noah Spence, who faces an indefinite suspension for a failed drug test, there are two potential first-round draft picks there in Bennett and Bosa as well as an emerging talent in Washington and steady, edge-setting ends in Miller and Rashad Frazier.
In addition, the Buckeyes have faced some teams that have made it a point to get the ball out quickly, something the team will encounter again this weekend at Maryland, a squad that uses the screen pass as a heavy part of the offense.
“I told the D-line don’t get frustrated,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said after the UC game. “Everyone wants to say pass rush, but the reality is when that ball is coming out in 1.5 seconds I don’t care who you are, it’s gonna be tough to get there. The pass defense isn’t just on the back end. The pass rush isn’t just on the defensive line. It’s a combination of everybody together, so those are the things we’ve just got to make sure guys understand their roles and what they have to do. All in all we’ll be much better because of it.”