It's something we might never see again.
Ohio State's defense – one of the top units in the country over the last year and a half – was staked to a 24-7 fourth quarter lead against NC State last week. In most cases, the game would be over. Teams have trouble scoring at all in the second half against the Buckeyes – let alone 17 points in one quarter. But, it happened. The OSU defense surrendered the lead and was forced to hold on in overtime.
This week against a very talented Bowling Green offense, the Bucks will attempt to prove that they are still one of the top defenses in the land.
The strength of the Buckeyes remains the defensive line.
Against the Wolfpack, tackle Darrion Scott was disruptive all afternoon. He has been nagged by a groin injury, and is still feeling the effects of offseason shoulder surgery, but found his stride against the Wolfpack.
"The defensive player of the week was Darrion Scott," head coach Jim Tressel said. "I think by far played the finest game he's ever played here. Eight or nine tackles, a couple tackles for loss, a couple sacks, caused a fumble. Just did a tremendous job and made a huge impact on that defensive front."
Nose guard Tim Anderson is also coming off a big week.
"Our attack force player of the week on our defensive front was Tim Anderson," Tressel said. "Tim, like Darrion, created a lot of havoc. He caused some quarterback hurries, had some quarterback hits. Had seven or eight tackles and a sack or two, that type of thing. Did an outstanding job. Gave great effort."
Conditioning was a big key for the Buckeyes' D-line last week according to Tressel.
"I think when you talk about playing on the defensive front, as many plays as our guys played, we had 99, I think, defensive snaps, when you get three overtimes," he said. "And those guys, the effort they gave, I felt, was extraordinary."
Ends Will Smith and Simon Fraser are also off to fast starts to the season. It is a matter of time before Smith starts racking up sacks. Fraser was expected to miss the NC State game with a knee injury, but made a quick recovery.
Against Bowling Green, the Bucks will be facing the nation's No. 1 yardage offense (575.3) and No. 2 scoring offense (50.7).
The Falcons are led by All-American candidate quarterback Josh Harris.
"Josh Harris does an extraordinary job for Bowling Green, attacking with his feet and his arm," Tressel said. "They lead the nation in offense and scoring and so forth. They scored 27 points against Purdue at Purdue, which I happen to think Purdue is one of the top defenses in the Big Ten. And so I know, our defense knows, and I certainly know that our defensive staff knows that they've got a tremendous challenge as Bowling Green comes in this week."
Ohio State's players know that BG will come to town with a lot of confidence, believing it can pull the upset.
"You know, every team we play is going to come in thinking they can win," Scott said. "It's the attitude you have to have when you go play a football team. But, you know, just like last year, we had close games. Just the thing is, we're going to be confident. It was the same way last year, if the games were close, we're going to stick together and believe we can win and the majority of the time we come out victorious."
Looking at OSU's linebackers, sophomore A.J. Hawk continues to excel at the Will spot.
"AJ plays the position that Cie Grant played a year ago," Tressel said. "The guys up front do a good job protecting and let the guys make hits and make decisions, and A.J. has the ability to make decisions about what's going on, and they blitz him, and he makes plays there. You know, he gets better and better all the time, and he's going to be an excellent football player."
Fred Pagac remains the starter at the Mike position, but backup Mike D'Andrea continues to get more and more playing time.
Rob Reynolds is having a solid year at the Sam spot, and has also seen a lot of time in the middle.
Reynolds is backed up by Bobby Carpenter.
Overall, the linebackers are playing well. It's a five-man rotation into three spots, which keeps everyone fresh.
Against BG's spread offense, the Bucks will play a lot of nickel and only two linebackers will be on the field at the same time. It is something the defense is well accustomed to. Even going back to last year, the Bucks have played more nickel than base.
Shifting to the secondary, there are still some concerns.
Cornerback Chris Gamble was everyone's All-American coming into the season, but it's easy to forget he is still learning the position. Against NC State, Gamble gave up a pair of touchdown receptions.
The other corner – Dustin Fox – has also struggled at times.
"Dustin Fox is a good player," Tressel said. "He plays the boundary corner, which is an area that gets attacked a lot. The throws are shorter. When you're out there at the field corner, you don't have as many throws down the field at you because they're in the air so long and they can break. When you're facing a guy like Chris Gamble, you don't want the ball up in the air too long, or he will break on you, and you don't want that. So the boundary corner gets attacked a lot, and I think Dustin Fox is a good one. He's established himself as being a solid guy and good tackler, good blitzer, plays aggressive, plays close.
"There are some times where he looks like he's got them covered so well that that guy holds the ball for another half second and Darrion Scott knocks him. A lot of our good plays up front have been, in part, due to the fact that we've done a pretty good job covering. So I'm a Dustin Fox fan."
Strong safety Will Allen continues to be a clutch performer in the secondary. When there is a play that needs to be made, you can count on Allen to make it. He was of course responsible for keeping NC State's TA McLendon out of the end zone on the final play last week.
"Will Allen, I think right now has two tremendous things going for him," Tressel said. "One, he's very, very disciplined, and he's where he's supposed to be, and he helps everyone else get there. And, two, he's doing exactly what these three guys are doing and what the rest of those seniors are doing. He's focused and made a commitment to play the best he could possibly play and have his career best year this year as a senior. And, I couldn't be happier with Will.
"Now, did he grade 100 percent (against NC State)? No. Did he grade winning performance? Yes. Are there some things I'm sure he has to get better at? I'm sure there are. But what he's doing with his discipline and his passion to contribute, you know, Will Allen is one of those special guys."
Redshirt freshman Brandon Mitchell is close to locking down the free safety spot. He has been splitting time with sophomore Nate Salley, but Mitchell is a bigger hitter and a more consistent tackler. He's also solid in pass coverage.
You aren't going to find many DBs will more athletic ability than the rangy Salley, but look for Mitchell to win the job soon. Either way, both young safeties will continue to play a lot. The coaches are using their third safety as the nickel back in most cases, instead of third cornerback EJ Underwood (who needs to add a lot of muscle).
The one area of the defense that still has Tressel scratching his head is the increased number of penalties. Whether it's the pass interference calls, or the late hits, Tressel runs a disciplined ship and doesn't like to see all the yellow flags on the field.
"Well, we do play close coverage," he said. "And that is one thing that going into this year, the officials talked about they were going to call a little closer. But with the style we play, you know, yeah, we've got to get better at that. But I don't want our guys playing tentative.
"As far as the late hits on the quarterback, it was an area that the officials talked about as being an area that they're going to call a little closer. And the definition of a late hit is if you take just one more step and hit him, then it probably won't be flagged. If you take a second step and hit him, you will be. That's – as fast as those steps happen, you know, that's tough. But again, we're going to be aggressive."
Tressel can deal with a few penalties from his aggressive defense, but the Bucks need to cut down on mental mistakes.
"Some of the penalties we can live with," he said. "Others we need to eliminate, if we're going to be as good as we need to be."