Michael Bennett Making Most Of Final Games

Time is winding down for Ohio State's seniors, and at least one is doing his part to go out with a bang. Playing nearly every play on the defensive line, Michael Bennett has been immensely important for the Buckeyes the last two weeks both with his play and leadership.

It was halftime. People were cold. Those 118 yards on the ground Ohio State gave up while taking just a 17-14 lead into the break at Minnesota? No big deal. It was good enough, right?

Not to Michael Bennett.

“Mike Bennett took it very personal,” OSU corner Doran Grant said. “He said some words that I'm not going to say right now, but second half we did a better job stopping the run.”

The Buckeyes did good enough to short-circuit the Minnesota attack – at least until a late turnover put the Golden Gophers back in business – and afterward, Bennett explained what was going through his mind when he gathered the Silver Bullets at the break.

“I let them know that I wasn’t happy about it and I felt like there was a lot of apathy like, ‘Oh, we only let them get 14 points,’ and I felt like we shouldn’t have let them get any,” the senior defensive tackle said. “So, it was mostly just a call to action. We can’t be OK with that. You can’t let them to run the ball. We’re better than that. We need to form a wall and not let their running back get through. And I don’t know many times in the second half that he did.”

Bennett said he gave a similar pep talk at Penn State, and both times, it came from the heart. And as he said, against Minnesota, it seemed to work, as David Cobb was held below 50 yards on the ground on the second half.

“I didn’t like the look on guys’ faces after they’d seen it run up the middle,” Bennett said. “I played off a lot of anger, just a lot of trying to be intense and adrenaline and stuff like that and I just didn’t see it coming from the rest of the defense. I don’t think we have a lack of leadership on the defense by any means, but I feel like I need to be the voice and be the energy so when young guys are kind of feeling like, well they just got a big play, they can look at me be like all right we’re ready to go.

It was exactly the kind of thing that earned Bennett the votes to make him a team co-captain, and it was another example of how the Centerville, Ohio, native is taking his the team’s fortunes in his final few games into his own hands.

Though Bennett finished with just two tackles, including a tackle for loss, in the win at Minnesota, he was graded a champion, and head coach said, “Michael Bennett played one of his best games as a Buckeye.”

That game came on the heels of probably his best game in Scarlet and Gray, a showing in the win at Michigan State in which Bennett had four tackles, made two TFL, registered a sack and forced a fumble by MSU quarterback Connor Cook.

Afterward, Bennett admitted that his senior year – which to this point includes 22 tackles, six TFL, two sacks and three pass breakups – hasn’t been what he expected on the stat sheet. Picked by some as a potential All-America choice and a potential first-round draft pick, Bennett instead turned on the tape before the trip to East Lansing and admitted he wasn’t pleased with what he saw.

“I looked back on my senior year and then I watched film of last year and I wasn’t firing off the ball,” he said. “I realized I was playing cautious. I was too scared to make mistakes, I didn’t want to mess up, I didn’t want to get hurt or whatever. This game, I couldn’t afford to do that for my teammates or for myself so I decided I was going to go out, play as hard as I can and whatever happens, happens.”

It’s natural, after all, in sports for many of those who are nearing a professional career to think big picture. Bennett has often proved to be a thoughtful sort over the years, and it’s also clear he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself or have fun with his roommates, as well. In many ways, he’s just a regular guy – just one who happens to be 6-2, 288 pounds and really good at football.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. sees that as well, which is why he is so pleased to see Bennett’s progress this season.

“I think he’s just realized he doesn’t have to make every play, and that’s the bottom line,” Johnson said. “Just do your job, stay in your gap and play great football. I can tell you the last five weeks he’s done that. So I’ve been more than pleased with the way Mike has been playing.”

That impressive play has lined up with a swap in the team’s two defensive tackles. Bennett moved from 3-technique (lined up between a guard and tackle) to nose tackle this season at the start of the year with Adolphus Washington taking over the spot. Midway through this season, the two switched back.

“I didn’t talk to Coach Johnson about it too much,” Bennett said. “We do what they tell us and try to make the most out of it, but I think it was to get a little bit more production. I think I was more comfortable at 3-technique than nose guard. I can’t tell you for certain. It’s worked out pretty well the last couple of games.”

In each of the last two games, Bennett has been named a champion for his performance. He was also a champion in the locker room, one might say, for his halftime speech, one that shows exactly the kind of person Bennett is when it comes to directing this Buckeye squad.

“Yeah, this was the biggest call to action we’ve had in a while,” he said. “Just completely was not happy about the first-half performance and I think guys really responded to what I said and rallied around it and the other leaders stepped up and the young guys took it seriously and got a chip on their shoulder.”

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