Despite the potentially season-defining win, defensive players and coaches lamented their performance against the Spartans, particularly in the fourth quarter. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash repeatedly talked about the inability to finish in East Lansing when he addressed the media on Monday and was displeased with Ohio State’s run defense.
“We played well enough to win the game,” Ah said when asked about the run defense. “But we didn't play up to Ohio State standards Saturday night. And we're not measuring ourselves on what others do. We're measuring ourselves on what we do. And Saturday we didn't play up to our full potential defensively for four quarters.
“We had spurts and moments that we played well enough there in the second and third quarter, like I said, but we have to play better. If we want to win at a high level and compete for championships, we have to play great defense. That's both run and pass defense. And Saturday night we didn't play well on offense and defense. And we've gotta do a better job.”
The stats support Ash’s assertion that the run defense was not up to Silver Bullets standards. Ohio State surrendered 178 yards rushing to the Spartans, nearly 98 yards less than they had allowed on average in their previous seven games. Jeremy Langford led the charge against the Buckeyes, amassing 137 yards on the ground at an impressive 7.6 yards per carry clip.
Bennett said the issue against Langford was often a tackling one, the Buckeyes were in position but unable to bring down the powerful back quickly. The Spartans back was unable to hit the big play, as they gave up a 33-yard scamper, but other than that kept the Michigan State senior in front of them.
“I think our biggest thing was tackling against Michigan State,” Bennett said. We were getting to them, they were just breaking tackles. They were good running backs, they were running hard and for whatever reason we’re tackling differently than we usually tackle.
“I think the biggest thing is just that we tackle Cobb and go after it, have guys flying to the ball and wrap up and roll his legs and stuff, not let him just stiff arm us.”
Cobb’s 133.89 yards rushing a game is good for ninth nationally. The Gophers aren’t afraid to work their tailback as he is third in the country in carries per game with 25.22.
Ash credited the Minnesota offensive line, which starts two redshirt seniors, a pair of redshirt juniors and one sophomore, for getting a strong push and Cobb for hitting the hole hard.
“Starts with their offensive line, they're doing a great job blocking up front for him,” the coordinator said. “He's a hard runner. When he gets that ball, he's a downhill runner.
“He's a hard runner and he gets the yards. He keeps his legs driving all the time. He's a load. He's a challenge. And he fits well with their scheme.”
The Gophers have relied on Cobb to carry them to their 7-2 record this season, forgoing a balanced attack for what they know works for them. Minnesota is putting up 224.33 yards a game on the ground compared to just 140.2 through the air. The latter number is good for just 122nd in the country.
Bennett said a game that will be decided in the trenches is easy to get excited for.
“That means as a defensive lineman that you have more control over the game than you would if they were just trying to dink and dunk it all around the place, so I welcome that kind of challenge,” the lineman said. “I think the rest of the D-line and line backing crew welcome that kind of challenge. I think like Michigan State we want to force them to throw the ball.”
It won’t be the last time the Buckeyes will have that strategy this season as they still have Indiana and Tevin Coleman’s 152.33 yards rushing – second best nationally – on their schedule. Wisconsin or Nebraska would likely be looming if the Buckeyes were to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. That would mean a show down with Melvin Gordon and his NCAA-leading 1,501 yards or Ameer Abdullah’s 1,250 (5th), respectively.
Ohio Stat’s run defense will get their next test with Cobb this weekend with a chance to take strides towards becoming the championship-caliber unit they’re striving to be.