When you have Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington as part of your front four on the defensive line, playing time is hard to come by.
However, Bosa and Washington are in the NFL now and the Buckeye defensive line has featured new names and faces for much of the 2016 season. Veterans Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes finally earned their right to start, but because of young talent, they have also been able to play less reps, keeping them fresh throughout the season.
Lewis led Ohio State in sacks this season with 7.5, which is just 0.5 off his pace from a year ago. Despite getting significantly less reps, Lewis has kept his production and said he feels more fresh than he did a season ago.
"I mean last season there were some games I played 80 reps," Lewis said. "That’s a lot of reps on the body but other than that I was banged up pretty bad too. I mean this year I feel a lot fresher."
Because of Ohio State's ability to get to the passer, teams seem to be working on quick passes in order to eliminate the Buckeye pass rush. Lewis said that the current rotation has helped OSU catch their breath against teams that get the ball out quick.
"I mean especially when the ball is out on like 1.8 seconds or something like that like guys have to chase after the ball, rush the quarterback, all that. It gets tiring but the thing is that when we rotate like that it keeps the defensive line fresh and keeps us fast," Lewis said. "It’s like a wave of guys coming in time after time. The o-line, I don’t know how much of that they can sustain after a while because of course they’re getting tired because they don’t rotate."
When Lewis and Hubbard need a breather, the next men up are usually freshman Nick Bosa and junior Jalyn Holmes. Holmes, who has been treated as a starter by Meyer and the coaching staff is tied for second on the team (linebacker Jerome Baker) in tackles for loss with 8.5.
While it helps keep him fresh, Hubbard said it can be hard at times to come off the field in the middle of a game.
"I think it’s frustrating because your production isn’t where you want it to be, but that’s just selfish thinking," Hubbard said. "When it really comes down to it, you see at the end of games how fresh our d-line is playing."
Despite collecting only 26.0 sacks this season as compared to 38.0 in 2015 and a Big Ten best 45.0 in 2014, the Ohio State defensive line has gotten enough pressure to force multiple bad throws from opposing quarterbacks, which has led to 19 interceptions, ranking the Buckeyes fourth in the country in that category.
With the Buckeyes set to take on one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Deshaun Watson, Lewis said getting pressure off the edge will be a major key for Ohio State to have success against the Tigers.
"He’s a great quarterback so the main thig is pass rush," Lewis said. "Getting him off the spot but also being aware of where he is in the pocket, not running behind him, and I can say more than likely getting our hands up and batting the balls down."
In addition to the defensive ends, Ohio State also features a four man rotation on the interior as Michael Hill, Davon Hamilton, Robert Landers and Dre'Mont Jones all see extensive minutes along the defensive line.
Landers said with the Buckeyes being fresh all the time, it forces an opposing offensive line to play at a pace it might not be prepared for.
"It takes the tempo of the game to another level that most teams, especially most O-lines, are not used to seeing," Landers said. "With the skill set of our defensive line, everybody’s athletic and fast across the board, it makes it more difficult for an offense to really scheme up effort and speed."
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