might be hard to believe, but with the 20-0 victory against Northwestern in
their Big Ten opener, Ohio State recorded its first shutout since Oct. 10, 1998
when they held Illinois scoreless in Champagne, Ill.
"You can't say enough about that defense," Jim Tressel said. "They put pressure on the quarterback, they covered the receivers close and the linebackers were where they were supposed to be. Northwestern has probably the most balanced attack that we've faced this year; they didn't just say, 'Hey, we're going to throw it every down,' and our guys handled that balance and did a great job in the shutout."
It's a well-deserved accomplishment for a unit that has played a tremendous role in Ohio State possessing the nation's longest winning streak, currently at 19 after the victory over the Wildcats.
"Our defense is a group that works hard, trains hard, studies the game, and they play hard," Tressel said. "For them to get a shutout, I know they feel good about that, and it sends a signal that we want to be good on defense."
Of course it helps to pitch a "donut," the term that the defense affectionately refers to as a shutout, when you have such a talented and veteran line up front. Although Darrion Scott did not play in the game due to an ankle sprain, Ohio State had Will Smith, Tim Anderson, Simon Fraser and others wrecking havoc against the Northwestern offense all game long.
"It feels good. The offense and the special teams helped us out and put us in great field position," said Smith about securing the shutout. "It just feels good. That's what we always shoot for, we call it a donut. We shoot for the opponents not to score, so we're happy."
Anderson played his typical busy game from the interior of the Ohio State defense, helping to post the shutout.
"Obviously we're excited about it," he said. "It gives us a lot of confidence, and anytime the defense can put up a donut, we're going to probably win the game so it was a good day for us."
Northwestern came closest to putting points on the board early in the second period when they had a first-and-goal situation on the 10. They actually scored from 8 yards out on second-and-goal but were called for a holding penalty, negating the score. On the ensuing play, Smith and Bobby Carpenter sacked quarterback Brett Basanez, and then a delay of game penalty pushed them back to the 28. After an 11-yard rushing attempt that put the Wildcats at the 17, they attempted a 35-yard field goal that was wide left.
Smith obviously thought the entire team received a shot in the arm from a defensive stand such as that.
"Absolutely," he said. "Anytime we get after the quarterback
and get sacks and make them not score when they're in a scoring position, it's a
boost. Not only for the defense, I think for the offense and all the special
Other then another missed field goal in the third period, Northwestern never threatened to put points on the board again. The stingy Ohio State defense gave up 185 total yards on the day with 121 coming on the ground and 64 through the air.
Northwestern running back Jason Wright was held to 63 yards on 16 carries.
Wright, who had been averaging over 118 yards rushing per game, was held under
100 yards for the second time in five games.
Redshirt freshman Quinn Pitcock was in on the action from the outset due to the injury of Scott. It was his first career start as a Buckeye.
"It was weird because I got to play on the first-team all this week and didn't really realize it until right before the game that I'm starting, and it was exciting," he said. "I tried to stay calm and try to make it like I came out in the middle of the half like I'd been doing. I just tried to stay calm."
Of course Pitcock said he was elated to have had a hand in the shutout.
"It feels great," he said. "I don't know when the last time this has happened, but the defense played as a team, so it felt real good. I think it was the best the defense played in all four quarters. We seem to let up in the last eight minutes of every game, it seems like, and this time we actually stepped up and played all 60 minutes of the game. I feel like we played great and we shut them out, so it looks good for us."
A.J. Hawk found something not to be satisfied about in the shutout.
"We gave up too many rushing yards; we don't like to give up over 100 rushing yards like that," he said. "I think our secondary played really well and so did our D-linemen. We held them to 64 yards passing - something like that, so obviously that's a tribute to how the secondary and D-line played."
With Wisconsin looming on the horizon, Hawk, who led the defense with 13 tackles, said the defense isn't about to rest on their laurels now.
"If you're ever satisfied, you're getting beat," he said. "We're definitely not satisfied with what we did as a defense. We're glad we had a shutout; it was the first one of the year, but we know we have a lot of work to go. We didn't really dominate them as much as we'd have liked to. We definitely would have liked to have shut down the run game which, of course, they ran the ball on us pretty well at times. So that's something that I've said before, going into the Big Ten we're going to have to stop the first of all."
Although he might not have been satisfied with the defense overall Hawk was certainly happy to get a donut.
"It definitely feels good just to get the shutout; that's always the defense's first goal. You don't want to allow them to score any points," he said. "Being the first one of the season and being in Big Ten play it's definitely something special. We're going to try to keep that rolling."
And speaking of donuts, Marcus Green, who admitted to liking a chocolate donut with the cream filling in the middle, symbolically gave the defense just a plain donut rating on the day. A much trimmed-down version of Green devoured Northwestern ball carriers recording 7 tackles on the day.
"We got a lot to work on even though the defense did play really well," Green said. "I guess like Coach Tressel said, as a team we still haven't come together like I think we should, so we got a lot to work on."
Coach Mark Dantonio was not specific in doling out the credit to certain individuals for the shutout, but he was happy with the effort.
A.J. Hawk reaches for the tackle
"I don't know who had all of the plays, I just know that
our guys were playing hard," he said. "We missed a couple of tackles,
I thought, in the first half and probably played a little bit better in the
second half. Northwestern came out and did some things that they had not done,
which is a credit to them. They're a well-coached football team; they're going
to always have something for you that you haven't practiced and work on, that
you've got to adapt to, and I thought our guys did a good job."
Like Hawk, Dantonio thought the defense could have played better but he'll take the shutout.
"It wasn't pretty, but we got it done, and it's a credit to our players, the way they responded in those tough situations like the redzone and things like that," he said.
True freshman Donte Whitner couldn't have picked a better time to find himself involved in the thick of the rotation in the defensive backfield. Coming off a hamstring strain that limited his playing time in the first four games, Whitner was glad to get his first extensive action of the season, starting at the nickle back.
"We're very happy that we got a shutout, and it's very important to me about getting a shutout," he said. "But we feel that we could have played a lot better on both sides of the ball, and Coach Tressel says everyday that we haven't put that perfect game together yet, and we're still looking for that perfect game."