It's been a rough season for senior defensive lineman Darrion Scott.
A year after leading the Buckeyes in sacks with 8.5, he's battled an ankle injury for much of the season. He's been productive when he's in there – recording 8.5 tackles-for-loss and four sacks – but he hasn't been able to contribute nearly as much as he would have liked.
"It was very frustrating, because I was expecting to have my best year, being my last year," Scott said. "I missed four games – I really missed two or three – and I tried to come back and I really didn't perform up to my potential. But, I've gotten past it and it's still frustrating to look back and see all the big games I missed that I didn't play a part – like the loss to Wisconsin. So, it's frustrating, but I've moved on from it. I've had success my last two games – I've played pretty well – so I'm looking forward to the future. I'm happy with the way things are going right now."
Heading into "The Game," Scott says the ankle, which was rolled Sept. 20 against Bowling Green, is nearly fully recovered.
"Yeah, my ankle is probably about 90-95 percent," he said. "It's still getting nicked up, or dinged every once in a while. But that's something that I expected. The trainers told me it would probably be something that lasted for the rest of the season, all up until the bowl game. They said it would probably be one of those nagging injuries that you had to fight through all year and it has."
Saturday will mark the final regular season game for defensive line standouts Scott, Tim Anderson and Will Smith. They have started together for three years and Scott was asked why the D-line has been so successful.
"Speed and power," he said. "I think something that we all have is speed and power. We have some strong guys. Coach (Al) Johnson does a good job keeping guys strong throughout the year and the later part of the season. We've just got a lot of defensive linemen that can run well."
He also pointed to chemistry and depth along the defensive front.
"This defensive line is a tight unit," Scott said. "Everybody likes everybody. I've never heard anyone complain about playing time – we do a good job of rotating and I think that's good. It's a good move on the coaches' part: getting everybody in and having everybody satisfied. Nobody is selfish around here. Whatever the situation, whoever has to go in, is there. That person goes in and gets the job done. Therefore, we can trust each other very much and that causes us to come together and be a tight group."
Scott and Smith are good friends off the field. They are so tight that when Scott announced at the end of the 2002 season that he was staying at OSU for his senior year, Mike Doss stated, "That means Will Smith is coming back too, because those guys do everything together. What one does, the other does."
This year, Scott is happy that his buddy has been able to pick up some of the load for him. Smith, who has 10.5 sacks, is on the verge of breaking the school record of 13, set by Mike Vrabel.
"Will has definitely had his best year," Scott said. "Will's had an unbelievable year. This is all of what I expected to see from Will. I was hoping I could play a bigger part and have something to add along with Will Smith because, you know, we take pride in seeing each other do well on the field. We see each other on film, and a play we could have made, we'll get on each other and things like that. So, I think that helps us push each other and be the best we can be.
"The whole time I was out I was telling Will, ‘I'm hurt, but I know we can still do it. Go out there and do your thing and I know you're going to be able to get the job done.'"
The last two years against Michigan, Scott has helped the Buckeyes get the job done. He tipped a John Navarre pass that was intercepted in 2001, and last year, he forced a huge fumble on a sack late in the fourth quarter.
"Hopefully I can have another big play in this year's game," Scott said. "(The Purdue game) was my last home game and I wanted something to remember it and I got a sack. Hopefully this game coming up, I would definitely like to have a play to remember. Hopefully a sack, caused fumble towards the end of the game again. You always think about having big plays like that in a big game that really mean something. Just to have something to remember it. Just to have fond memories down the line. Years from now you can think back to that last big game against Michigan."
Scott enjoyed his first trip to Michigan Stadium two years ago when the Bucks prevailed 26-20, after building a 23-0 first half lead.
"It was my first time in the Big House and it was fun," he said. "I like that stadium. The environment up there was great. It was something that you want to experience every year. You want to have a crowd like that. The environment up there was very hostile. Going away from home and seeing all that blue – a bunch of red too, but mostly blue – just to go away from home and play in a big stadium like that and get the win was great."
In last year's game at Ohio Stadium, a 14-9 win by the Buckeyes, Michigan's offense had quite a bit of success moving the ball between the 20's. The Wolverines couldn't do anything in the red zone, but their short passing game enabled them to rack up a lot of yards and control the clock.
"Michigan can move the ball," Scott understated. "They are Division I athletes just like we are. They are going to make plays and we have to realize that. But, all that matters is who puts the most points up on the board and who plays the best. Who has less turnovers and all those types of X's and O's. So, Michigan is a good team. We didn't expect Michigan to come out last year and have zero rushing yards, or under 100 yards passing, or anything like that. They played a good game offensively last year, but we got the win and that's all that matters."
We continued to quiz Scott on UM's short passing game. What can be done to slow down the screens, dump offs to tight ends, and quick routes to receivers?
"You just always have to be aware of it, because Michigan, they are pretty balanced," Scott said. "It could be run, or it could be pass. It could be play action. It's a number of things that could keep you frustrated. It can make you real cautious out there as a defensive lineman when you're going against the run, and then there's a screen and you have to run out there. Then, there's play action: you think it's a run, but it's really pass. It's just something where you have to keep your head on straight. It's almost like the spread offense. It seems like you're never going to get there because you never know what's going to happen. But, you just have to keep banging; keep going. The more you keep going and you stay confident, good things will happen."
Scott is concerned about Michigan's big play ability. He thinks it will have some tricks up its sleeve for OSU.
"I would say the one thing that they do that a lot of teams don't do is the reverse," he said. "Michigan is a team that when their playing Ohio State, they're going to try for the big play. Whether it's the fake field goal, reverse to open up the game, it's going to be something like that. But as far as the screen, we've been seeing screens all year with the spread offenses and the teams we've been playing. So, I'm sure we'll be able to adapt to the screen, or what not."
The Buckeyes were able to rattle Navarre the last two years, but he's now a senior and might not be as affected by the pass rush. But Scott doesn't think Navarre's experience will be a big factor.
"I don't think it matters what year he is, or anything like that," he said. "We have a plan and the plan is to get to the quarterback, whenever he drops back. That's what we plan on doing. We had success the past two years and I don't see why we wouldn't be able to do it this year. We've gotten a lot better. We're bigger, faster, stronger and we're expecting to do the same types of things this year."
Bring up the fact that Ohio State is a 6-point underdog and you're left with an unhappy Darrion Scott.
"I don't feel we're an underdog at all," he said. "I don't see why we'd be underdogs. We have a better record and all that type of stuff. We're both competing for the Big Ten championship and I definitely don't feel we're an underdog at all."
Scott noticed that the Bucks moved up to No. 2 in the BCS, but he doesn't think that will give them more motivation to win Saturday. In fact, he said it could have a negative effect on some of the younger guys.
"I don't think it's a factor, but it could be a factor to some guys," he said. "If we were still No. 3, we might work harder because we would want to go out there and do well and put up a lot of points on Michigan and try and make a statement that we should be No. 2. But, for us to be No. 2 right now, I'm just hoping nobody gets comfortable thinking we don't have to work as hard and we don't have to beat Michigan by a certain amount of points, or anything like that."
Speaking of scoring points, OSU's offense hasn't been doing very much of it. But, Scott says the defensive players don't worry about it. They just go out and try and score themselves.
"If the offense can't get in the end zone, the defense is going to do the best job we can to get a turnover and put them in field position to get a touchdown, or get a turnover and score ourselves," he said. "Anytime we get a defensive touchdown, we're going to win the game."
As they might have throughout the 1990's, the Buckeyes no longer try to downplay Michigan week. Jim Tressel has his players embrace the rivalry and it's worked so far to the tune of 2-0.
"It's real intense around here this week," Scott said. "Not much joking going on at all. It's all about Michigan and we are preparing well for Michigan. We know it's a big game and we've been talking about it and preparing for it for a long time."
Just how long have the Buckeye players been talking about the UM game?
"Oh, even months ago in the weight room, someone would bring it up," Scott said. "They'd say something like, ‘We've got that big game at the end of the year in November… Nov. 22.'"