Last week against Iowa…
In a single word, that describes the performance of the Ohio State defense last week against Iowa.
The Buckeyes flattened the Hawkeye rushing attack, collaring Fred Russell repeatedly when he looked to kick plays outside. He ended the day with 42 yards on 22 attempts. In fact, the entire Iowa team managed only 66 yards on 40 carries, and while LSU leads the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed per game, it is Ohio State's defense that allows the fewest yards per carry (1.8) in the country.
Defensive players agree, last week felt good – especially for redshirt freshman Quinn Pitcock who tallied 6 tackles and a sack in the game.
"I was just out there having fun…I just went out and played and reacted to everything," Pitcock said. "The whole defense played well. We seemed to swarm very well on the ball, and it just worked out perfect."
With the exception of a Nick Kaeding field goal and a touchdown that should have been nullified on two blatant holding infractions, the Buckeyes defense controlled the game from start to finish.
Next up is Indiana, on the road.
No matter the opponent, "It's always a big challenge playing on the road," says linebacker Fred Pagac, Jr. "Coach Tressel has his little formula that he always tells us about to winning the road games and one of them is having a relentless defense…Playing on the road you might not get some calls. The home team is going to be pumped up, and you just have to play that much better to win on the road."
Still, no matter who the opponent right now, OSU believes they can shut them down.
"I think the defense really believes," said Pagac, Jr. "It's one of those things you have to have confidence but not be cocky. The defense really has that. Everyone tries to go out there they just really give each other a little momentum. They get people hyped up. They have a little swagger about them. It is just something (where) they go out and try to make plays."
Introducing the Buckeyes…
The strength of the defense lies at the defensive line position. Will Smith, healthy this season has been borderline unblockable at times. He seemed to spend so much time in the Iowa backfield last weekend, that it is surprising Ferentz did not issue him a team jersey with his own number. Tim Anderson eats up anything in the middle whether that is merely by stuffing the run or tracking down a wide receiver from the backside on a screen. Darrion Scott is slowly recovering from his pulled groin, and Simon Fraser is continuing to have a solid season. A second unit with Kudla, Patterson, Pitcock, and Penton can do almost as much damage. In short, the defensive line for Ohio State is performing at least as well as expected, if not better. Linebacker Fred Pagac, Jr. is clearly impressed. He commented, "I've never seen anything like it. I always tell my dad (Raiders coach Fred Pagac) that it's the best defensive line I've ever seen. I mean, guys in front of us, if they're not going to make the play, they pretty much take two, three blockers out so we can make the plays…they're very unselfish guys and probably the best defensive line that I've seen."
Nor does the line just gobble up offenses at the point of attack. They also pursue. Tim Anderson commented several weeks ago, "I think it is something coach Heacock emphasizes along with coach Dantonio. You know, it is important; you never know when you could be that guy (to make a play). By doing that I have made plays downfield. I think it was last year against Michigan, they had a screen where I ended up making the play. It was like 15 yards down the field or something like that just because I ran to the ball. If I didn't run to the ball, he might have picked up another 5-10 yards, maybe even scored. You don't know. I think that is what Coach Heacock does instilling in us – ‘you don't know,' so why not when you are out there go 100%, go hard the whole time, and if you need a break let us know we will get a guy in there (while) you take a couple plays and relax. Once you are ready, go back out there."
The twisted thing is that because of their rotation, Ohio State can actually afford to take out their entire front four for a couple of plays. They can even send them for a coffee and doughnuts if they chose, and the second string would still be better than anything Indiana has.
At linebacker, Ohio State will continue to employ its rotation. Hawk will predominantly man one outside linebacker position and can be expected to stay on the field for pretty much the entire game. Switching out at the other outside spot will be Robert Reynolds and Bobby Carpenter. While having Reynolds back is "going to be huge," according to Fred Pagac, Jr., it is not certain whether he will start given the solid play of Carpenter last week. The middle will be manned by Mike D'Andrea and Pagac, Jr. D'Andrea has shown flashes of brilliance but has at times struggled while Pagac is enjoying his senior year immensely and staying healthy for the first time in his career at Ohio State.
"It just seems when things get rolling in the past I have always had some big setback, " he said. "It's an ongoing joke with the trainers that I am actually pretty healthy right now."
In the secondary will be the usual crew of Will Allen, Nate Salley, Chris Gamble, and Dustin Fox. Allen appears due for one of his signature moments given that he has gone all of 3 games without one of his game saving plays. Ho hum… I guess Buckeye fans will just have to be satisfied with his 7 tackles with one tackle for loss performance against Iowa in the meanwhile. Nate Salley keeps improving every week. After losing the starting job to Brandon Mitchell briefly, Salley has won it back and continues to dish out wicked shots to unsuspecting wide receivers. At some point, I look for him to dislodge not only the ball but also, some poor opponent's head as well. Gamble and Fox man the corners, and while both have taken some criticism this season, Buckeye fans should consider themselves fortunate to have two players of their abilities on their side. At the nickel back position will be another young player making great strides, Donte Whitner. Whitner scored his first career touchdown last week on special teams by corralling a bouncing ball in the end zone following the Roy Hall punt block.
How it will play out…
Ohio State will stop the run. That is always their first priority. They look to stop the run, force the other team to become one dimensional, and then eat them alive. With the exception of NC State, the Buckeyes have done this almost to perfection since August of 2002 and have not allowed a legitimate 20 points in a season and a half. Unless they have a cannon and grapeshot, there will be no large holes for the running backs.
Indiana, finding its rushing attack stymied, will attempt to move the ball through the air. DiNardo will know they are playing Russian roulette; sooner or later, if they must play it long enough, very bad things will happen. The Buckeye defensive line will pressure Lovecchio, forcing errant throws and turnovers.
In the end, there is little Indiana can do against the Ohio State defense if they bring their "A" game. The Buckeye defense will win this game by setting up the other two units on the team as they have for the last 21 contests. This might even allow for (gasp) the Scarlet and Gray to find their long lost offense and rushing attack.
OSU 35 – IU 6