Ohio State's defense did not play well in the 24-21 win over Marshall – especially in the second half – but it did just enough to help the Buckeyes pull out the victory.
The Thundering Herd is known mostly as a passing offense, but was very effective running the ball against OSU.
Marshall finished with 290 total yards of offense – 150 of which came on the ground. Herd tailbacks Ahmad Bradshaw and Earl Charles each had big games. Bradshaw carried 17 times for 77 yards and Charles rushed 16 times for 72 yards – each posting averages of 4.5 yards per carry.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Snyder shouldered some of the blame.
"It took us a while to get settled down and adjusted," he said. "And to be honest with you, I wasn't making very good calls. They had us outflanked and we couldn't come up with an edge over there and to their credit, they kept running it into their boundary, which good teams do. It's hard to see what's going on over there and all I'm hearing is, ‘We don't have an edge.' So then we got to the sideline and we got it fixed."
Ohio State defensive end Jay Richardson said the Buckeyes were expecting Marshall to throw the ball a lot more that it did.
"Yeah, in the second half, we came out thinking pass," he said. "In the first half, they couldn't run the ball on us, but they came out in the second half really trying to pound the ball on us and run the zone cutback. It was hurting us for a while, but we hunkered down towards the end."
Richardson agreed with Snyder that OSU was weak on the edge against the run.
"We were getting out-flanked and out-leveraged and they were kind of getting the ball outside on us," he said. "We were out-flanked on that wide, wide wing. They were stacking the tight end on the left side and we were thinking pass, we didn't really expect them to come at us like that. But, it was a good game plan by them. I give them credit, but we held in there and stayed strong."
Richardson picked up the first sack of the season for the Buckeyes in the first half.
"We just ran a little stunt up front – a little up and under – and it opened up," he said. "Marcus Green did a great job of getting me free and opening it up for me. He slowed down the quarterback and I just came in and did my job."
As usual, the Bucks rotated several players on the defensive line.
"Yeah, me and Simon start off and then it's usually Marcus and Quinn (Pitcock) in the middle," Richardson said. "Then in the second series, Dave (Patterson) and Mike (Kudla) come in there and Joel (Penton) will come in there. We're just trying to keep guys fresh, basically. It's more inside than out. I wish we would rotate a little more outside because me and Simon were kind of hung out to dry, but that's OK because we need the work. But we're just trying to keep guys fresh so we can keep a good rush going."
On a positive note, Ohio State held Marshall to just six of 17 on third down conversions. None were bigger than a 3rd and 5 play from OSU's 16 with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter tackled Marshall quarterback Stan Hill for a two-yard loss on a draw. That forced a 35-yard field goal attempt, which was wide left, keeping the score at 21-21.
"Six of 17 on third downs? That's pretty good. I was pleased with that," Snyder said.
For Carpenter, it was another strong game. He led the Bucks with 13 tackles (6 solo).
"I think I played all right, but man, we all have to get better," he said. "We need to put teams away."
Linebacker A.J. Hawk – who finished with 12 tackles – agreed with Carpenter.
"That ranks right up there with the close games we've had," Hawk said. "It kind of reminds me of N.C. State last year when they came back on us late. We need to put more of an emphasis on putting teams away and staying up on them."
One of the reasons the Thundering Herd would not go away was the fact that OSU did not force a turnover – again.
"Same thing as last week," lamented Snyder. "No turnovers and I don't think we tackled very well – like we need to tackle and how we've tackled here in the past. Those are things that we need to get better at and hopefully between now and next week we'll be able to get that done."
Carpenter thinks the Buckeyes played well in the red zone – one of their trademarks the last two seasons.
"If you're not getting turnovers, you need red zone defense and big plays on offense and you're going to win some games," he said. "Our offense made some big plays today."
One of the biggest plays in the game came after a curious decision by OSU's coaching staff to accept a holding penalty, even though the Buckeyes' defense had just forced a fourth down from Marshall.
With 8:40 left in the fourth quarter and the score 21-14 OSU, Marshall was stopped on a 3rd and 9 play from OSU's 13 for no gain. However, the Bucks accepted a holding penalty, forcing Marshall into a 3rd and 19 from the 23. Well, Hill promptly hit Brad Bates for a 23-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
"Just hindsight wise, we just felt that Coach (Bob) Pruett might go for it on 4th and 10, so we figured, hey, let's make it 3rd and 20 and maybe it will be 4th and 20 and they'll try and think about kicking a field goal," Snyder said. "So, that was the thinking there. Stan Hill just made a great throw. There is no question, he made a great throw."
Hill finished the day 22 of 34 passing for 140 yards and one touchdown. But it was his decision-making that impressed the Buckeyes. Hill was actually quarterback/offensive coordinator on this day.
"We knew what we were getting into with Stan," Snyder said. "He's a good player. I'm going to tell you, he called the game from the field. He called the game. When you get a quarterback that can call the game, that's tough because it takes all the cards out of your hands and he's calling the game on the field and that's like having a coach on the field."
Marshall came out in the first half throwing a lot of wide receiver screens. Roughly every third play was a screen.
"Really, their passing game in the first half was really a running game," Snyder said. "They threw a lot of bubble screens and that's nothing more than a toss sweep to the wide receiver. Then they came back out in the second half and actually started handing the ball the other way to the tailback."
Hawk was asked if it was a little bit encouraging that the Buckeyes did not play well, but were still able to emerge with a victory.
"I don't know if you'd call it encouraging," he said. "We know we have to get better, but we say that after every game. There's always mistakes you made and stuff like that. But we were fortunate we came away with a win. I think what our coaches have been telling us all the time: pursuit, toughness, it seems to always overcome any kind of scheme mistakes, or missed tackles we had."
Overall, Hawk was not pleased with the defensive performance, but felt that the Buckeyes stepped up when they had to.
"Obviously we gave up a little more rushing yards than we would have liked and we didn't get the turnovers we needed – I didn't help that by dropping one," he said. "But our defense, like I always say, we take pride in stopping them in the red zone and doing stuff like that and handling sudden change when it happens and tonight I think we did that pretty well."
On one drive in particular, Marshall used up nine minutes of the clock and ran 17 plays. However, it resulted in zero points as a fake field goal attempt was stuffed deep in OSU territory.
"You've got to be kidding me," Carpenter said when told it was a 17-play drive. "I looked over at A.J. on third down and said, ‘This has to be the longest drive in Ohio State history.' But the thing is though, we stopped them on defense. I would have been happy if they would have kicked that field goal and made it. That's a win for us. Then they tried that fake and we stopped them."
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, cornerback Dustin Fox suffered a fractured arm in the first half. The early prognosis is that he might return midway through the Big Ten schedule, but that would seem to be a best-case scenario.
"Well, you know, we lost some leadership when we lost Dustin," Snyder said. "He came back down on the sideline and did a good job talking to the boundary corner there. But it's going to hurt us, there's no question about it. But Ashton (Youboty) went in and played pretty well. I have a lot of respect for their receivers and Ashton went in and played pretty well against them."
Most of Ohio State's players did not learn of the injury until halftime.
"I had no idea Dustin got hurt until halftime," Carpenter said. "I guess he got hurt and ran off the field real quick. I don't think anyone really knew."
Fox wasn't doing anything usual on the play, it was just one of those things that happens in football.
"I was just making a normal tackle," Fox said. "The receiver cut across and I wrapped him up and somehow his leg hit me and my arm snapped."
Fox knew right away that it was serious.
"Oh yeah, because I picked my arm up and it was numb and I was like, ‘Maybe it's just a bruise.' But then I felt the bones kind of rubbing and I was like, ‘Not good, I'm out of here.' It's unfortunate."
Fox already knows how the doctors intend to fix the break.
"They'll put the bone back together and then they'll put a plate right over it which holds it together and that will stay in there forever," he said. "The bone will just use that plate to keep it in place and the bone will heal."
Kudla was also lost to injury in the second half. It appeared as though he
re-injured his neck, but that could not be confirmed.