Getting Defensive: Hawk's Command Performance

Outside linebacker A.J. Hawk filled up the stat sheet in Saturday's loss to No. 2-ranked Texas. But Hawk said only one statistic mattered -- the loss -- in the final analysis. We have notes on his game against Texas as well as thoughts from several defensive players on what went wrong and what they expect from Saturday's opponent, San Diego State.

It was a command performance against a great opponent. The only bad thing is it happened in a loss.

Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk's line for Saturday's 25-22 loss to No. 2-ranked Texas reads like something you would expect from an All-American.

Hawk tallied 12 tackles (seven solos) with three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, one fumble forced, one fumble recovered and one interception, which he returned 24 yards to set up an OSU field goal.

Speaking with the media earlier this week, Hawk said it is hard to be excited about the game he played given the fact that the Buckeyes failed to pick up the win.

"I think a lot of guys (played well), but I may have gotten a little bit more attention at times," said the ever-humble Hawk. "I was lucky and was in the right spot at the right time with the fumble. Then, our defensive line put on great pressure and he threw the ball right to me with that interception. If you go back and watch the film, a lot of guys on defense were playing with great effort.

"Any time you lose a game, it's tough to handle. But we watched the film and we took a lot of good things away from that game. We feel like we can build off what we got with that game and come back and play well against San Diego State.

Hawk said dwelling on the defeat is not really an option, either.

"You have to let it go because there is nothing we can do about it now," he said. "It was tough Saturday night and the next day, when we watched the film and we saw what happened. It's a tough loss to take, like any loss is. That's the great thing about college football, though. We have another game coming up Saturday with another tough team coming in here. We have to win."

Hawk said OSU's late-game goal-line stand – keeping the Texas lead at 23-22 – was an important indicator for how hard the defense plays.

"We know we have to tackle better if we want to be a good defense here," Hawk said. "We feel like that last goal line stand we had, we'll use that as a positive. We could have folded there and let them score. But it shows the great character we have on this team. We wanted to give our team a chance. We felt like we could stop them.

"Obviously, it was a huge loss and a big disappointment. People on the outside may think we're going to quit and just say our season is over. But we think it starts with San Diego State. We feel if things work out, we can be a great team and a great defense and be the team we want to be. We're definitely not going to lay down and let the season go. We're going to make sure we have a chance to win every game.

"We felt like we had a chance to win. We were ahead for a lot of the game. We felt that we should have won. We felt like we had a hold of the game for a while. As a defense, we have to realize that we didn't stop them when we had to. We let them drive down and score on us."

Hawk was asked where the resolve to be a great unit comes from.

"It comes from having great practices through the week," he said. "What you do during the week shows on Saturdays. I think that showed in the Miami game and in the Texas game that we had prepared well. We feel if we had the effort we had Saturday night, we'll be all right."

Bobby Carpenter, also an outside linebacker for the Buckeyes, said Hawk probably cemented his position as the Butkus Award front runner with this nationally televised performance.

"Yeah, I'd definitely have to say he pushed himself into the lead there," said Carpenter, who had two tackles-for-loss among his 11 stops. "He is an extremely talented linebacker. He made a lot of plays on Saturday. My hat is off to him as well for playing as well as he did."

More Viewpoints

Linebacker Anthony Schlegel agreed with Hawk that the late goal-line stand spoke volumes.

"You look at that last goal line stand where people thought we were out of it," Schlegel said. "Ashton (Youboty) came all the way from the other end of the field and knocked that guy out of bounds at the half-yard line. That's effort. That's showing something. I think that showed the character of our defense. That we're trying to be the best and just keep working at it."

One of the key plays in the game was quarterback Vince Young's 63-yard pass to Billy Pittman down to the OSU 5-yard line. On that play, Schlegel missed Young on a blitz, giving him time to hit Pittman. But the OSU defense regrouped and forced Texas to settle for a field goal.

"I missed a sack," Schlegel said. "But the good thing is we came back the next play and I made a tackle. The next play is the most important play. That's how you have to look at it. Of course, we sit back and think about what we could have done and what plays we could have made to change the outcome of the game."

Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said that stop also showed the defense's resolve.

"The biggest thing for the defense I saw, especially when they were going for the touchdown and they had to kick the field goal, was we stopped them in the red zone," Pitcock said. "The defense as a whole did not want to give up. I think throughout the year that will help us."

Pitcock said the Buckeyes were prepared for Texas' running game. But the Longhorns probably won the game in the air, where do-it-all quarterback Vince Young threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

"The biggest thing was the transition to run from pass," Pitcock said. "We knew with Vince Young back there we'd rather have him pass the ball. When we did our statistics, we held them to 2.9 yards rushing, which made our goal. Maybe we were too cautious on rushes to keep him contained in the pocket. He was throwing great balls back there. Maybe we needed to step it up and let him run a little bit more.

"He's definitely a guy who doesn't second guess. If he thinks he can run, he'll go. He doesn't take a stutter step. He's comfortable with the pass back there. He's worked hard over the summer on his game. He's one of the top quarterbacks I've played against and could be a great quarterback to come."

Schlegel, who had eight tackles, also discussed the nature of this defeat.

"It's tough because of how we lost," he said. "But we did a lot of good things. It's kind of like last year when we were struggling. But the good thing is we still have nine games left. We're still in this thing. We're still out there practicing and working at the same tempo we did before the Texas game. All of our goals are still within reach. We need to keep working toward that."

Schlegel talked about what should drive the defense for the remainder of the year.

"It's a mentality that you always want to get better," he said. "You go out on the practice field to fix your mistakes and improve on the things we did well. We want to go out there and show the people the kind of team that we have. When you have that mentality, I think you will keep getting better.

"Defensively, the effort and mentality of going after people was there. We had some missed tackles, but everybody has some missed tackles. We came back and performed after those."

Schlegel's missed sack left an impression on him as the 6-5, 230-pound Young didn't budge.

"Had that been the week before, that would have been a sack," he said. "I was coming in there. I was flying in there. He's a guy you have to hit in the sternum to bring him down. He's a big guy. Those are things you learn upon. The next time I get that opportunity, I'll make that play.

"He's a great player and he proved it. We played great defensively. Just the big plays they had throwing the ball, we have to learn from that."

Salley Says

Free safety Nate Salley, who tallied five tackles and an interception, also talked about how the Buckeyes plan to bounce back.

"We're fine," Salley said. "We're ready to get this thing back on the road and rebound from what happened to us. It was a tough game and we fought hard. We just came out on the wrong end of it. That happens sometimes, but we have a mature team. I believe we'll move forward.

"We're still blessed to play this game. We can't let that one game get us down for the rest of the season. It would hurt to let that one game ruin what we're trying to do. I believe we still have a lot of our goals in front of us."

After playing Texas, some would view this week's game against San Diego State (0-2) as a lesser challenge. But Salley said the Buckeyes can't let up.

"We have to treat it like it is," Salley said. "The biggest game is always the next one. It would hurt for us to mess around and lose this one. We have to come out here with a positive attitude and play."

Carpenter's Thoughts

Carpenter said the loss should be something to drive the Buckeyes the rest of the year.

"You don't want to think about it all the time, but you think about it a little bit every day to keep you working hard and driving through practice when you get tired," Carpenter said.

"Any time you play well, you're happy. But if it's not well enough to win, it's not good enough. In the big games, it's about the play makers making plays. Every one of our defenders could have made a play, myself included. I tipped that ball and could have caught it. Overall, I'd say we played well and it is something to build on."

Carpenter scoffed at the notion that some view tight end Ryan Hamby, who dropped a potential game clinching touchdown, as a goat.

"Ryan played hard," Carpenter said. "I know he wanted to catch that ball, believe me. There is no one on this team taking it harder than he is. But no one on the team is going to come down on him. It could have been any one of us. Everyone on the team makes mistakes."

As a senior, Carpenter believes the Buckeyes can still accomplish a lot this year.

"Our season is not over yet," he said. "We have nine games left. I have nine games left as a Buckeye and so do the rest of our seniors and we want to go out there and finish strong. You never know what can happen during the course of the season, so all you can do is go out and take care of your own business."

Carpenter conceded that OSU's inability to consistently pressure Young played a part in the Buckeyes' downfall.

"I think some of the time on Saturday, we saw it's hard to get a great pass rush on a versatile quarterback like Vince Young," he said. "When you start selling out trying to get to him, you open up running lanes. The way Vince Young has beaten people in the past is he's been able to run the ball down the field. The biggest thing was to keep him in there and make him throw the ball. To his credit, he stood in there and threw some nice balls.

"We thought we were going to stop them. But to Vince Young's credit, he made a great throw and the receiver made a great catch. They are extremely talented, too, and they have some of the most talented players in college football. We were just a split-second late. Nate was flying to get over there and Ashton was there. The ball was thrown in the only spot it could have been caught."

Carpenter made some headlines prior to the game when it was reported that the Buckeyes hoped Young would not leave OSU as a Heisman candidate. He said none of the Longhorns grieved him over the comments.

"Their players were very respectful after the game," Carpenter said. "They came up to A.J., Anthony and myself and said we played extremely tough and we were some of the fastest linebackers they'd faced. That's how I felt about them. If there is a better football team in the country, I'd like to see them.

"Everybody takes a spin on things any way they want and slice up quotes any way you want. As far as the team, nobody really said anything. That was a heartfelt remark by myself and I wasn't trying to antagonize anybody. We had to stop him. We stopped him from running the ball against us, but he threw the ball extremely well. My hat is off to him."

Regarding Young, Carpenter said, "He was 240 or 245 and could run like a deer. He was definitely a different player to play against. He's one of the most elite athletes in the world. I was talking to Butch (Reynolds) after the game. If he slimmed down to 210, he'd be running the 4x400 in the Olympics. You see him turn that corner and he has a great stride. He's a tremendous athlete and could be a great quarterback in the NFL like a Michael Vick."

Bring On The Aztecs

We have comments from several players on preparing for San Diego State. The Aztecs are more than adequate on offense, averaging 25 points and 409 yards in their two losses this year.

They are led by quarterback Kevin O'Connell (431 yards passing, two touchdowns), wide receiver Jeff Webb (13 catches, 162 yards, one TD) and running back Lynell Hamilton (39 carries, 147 yards, three TDs).

SDSU scared OSU two years ago before succumbing 16-13. Last year, the Aztecs led Michigan late before falling 24-21.

Here's what the Buckeyes had to say about the Aztecs:

* Schlegel -- "They played us tough in that game two years ago. Last year, they played Michigan tough and we watched that game. They just throw so many things at you. Miami liked to do certain things in certain formations. But they just come out in everything. It's about gap integrity, flying around and getting to the quarterback, like we did against Miami.

"They do a mix of what everybody does in our conference. It's great to have that kind of game early. It really tests your mettle."

* Carpenter -- "San Diego State is a good team. It's going to be a tough game. They bring a lot of speed to the table. They have a lot of speed on both sides of the ball. It will be a bit of a challenge for us."

* Hawk -- "I remember they had a lot of team speed. They throw a lot of things at you, which makes it hard to pick up on certain things they run out of certain formations. They gave us a good game last time and they almost beat Michigan last year and they have a lot of good talent.

"We feel like we have an explosive offense and they're going to put some points up on the board. As a defense, we know we have to stop them. With a team like San Diego State and the talent they have, we talk a lot about tackling in space. I don't know if it's a statement game or anything like that. But we always talk about, `Let there be no doubt who is the best team on the field.'

"We watched the film today of when we played them two years ago and they gave us a tough game. They have a lot of good talent on that team. We want to come out and execute. We know it will be a good test. We don't schedule I-AA teams here or anything like that. We play great teams every week."

* Salley -- "It grabs our attention a lot, knowing that they came in here two years ago and easily could have beaten us. If we didn't have a couple plays go our way, they could have won. Will (Allen) had to take (an interception) 100 yards for a touchdown. We just need to come in focused this time and not take them lightly at all. We want to take them very seriously and come out ready to play."

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