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(BuckeyeSports members get 10% off their entire package)Joel Stave dropped back and narrowly avoided a hit by Rashad Frazier. Any relief the Wisconsin quarterback may have felt after avoiding the big hit was immediately evaporated as Michael Bennett tore through the middle of the Badgers line and engulfed Stave for his first sack of the night.
Ohio State led the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin 17-0 at that point, the game still theoretically in doubt, but Bennett was just getting started.
“I’ve never played like that before,” the senior said after the 59-0 win.
He hadn’t. Bennett played the best game of his career in one of Ohio State’s biggest. That second-quarter sack on Stave was one of two on the night for the senior captain, matching a career high. His four tackles for loss was also a career best.
The championship game performance was a culmination of the best stretch of the senior’s career. He was always in the right place on the field against the Badgers, mirroring his off-field efforts in the weeks leading up to the title game.
“Mike Bennett, he just finished his best three weeks as a Buckeye,” head coach Urban Meyer said the day after the win. “I don’t know how he played, I think he played pretty good, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about his development as a leader, a guy that I can count on, a guy that doesn’t wine and moan and complain about stuff, because that’s kind of how he got through it in the old days and that’s not the case now.
“We have very good leadership in this program with these guys right now. It resulted in a big time effort in Indianapolis and being the Big Ten champions.”
Bennett was voted one of five senior captains in August, tasked with leading a defensive line that was expected to be the pulse of the Buckeye defense. But the Centerville, Ohio, graduate admitted that until the Michigan State game he had been playing cautious, contributing to the relatively disappointing play of a unit that was thought to be the strongest on the team.
The suspension of all-Big Ten defensive end Noah Spence and the inconsistencies of the Ohio State reserves worked to prevent that from being the case throughout most of the year. But thanks in part to the leadership of Bennett and his renewed focus late in the season, the unit enters the postseason firing on all cylinders.
Adolphus Washington spends most of his time on the field lined up next to Bennett in the trenches and he said that the two tackles knew the Wisconsin game was there’s for the taking.
“We made it clear before the game this was a game me and him could control,” the junior lineman said. “If we could do our job and make them bounce it out, then we’d win. Simple as that.”
Bennett and the Buckeyes controlled the line of scrimmage defensively, contributing to an across-the-board domination of the Badgers. On a night when there was no shortage of stars for Ohio State, Bennett made his presence known, showing that he is peaking at the right time.
“That’s what we really talked about, the end of the year was what we really wanted to evaluate,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “Do you see the fundamentals we learned in camp, do we continue to grow? That’s what Michael Bennett showed tonight.”