The Buckeyes gave up an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, but pulled together and played well the rest of the game in a 27-6 victory over visiting San Diego State.
Ohio State gave up just 179 yards of total offense (166 passing, 13 rushing) and forced a total of nine three-and-out possessions from the Aztecs. In fact, the Buckeyes forced six consecutive three-and-outs in a dominant stretch that lasted for nearly two-and-a-half quarters (from the 10:00 mark of the first quarter, through the 3:16 mark of the third quarter.
As for the big scoring play from SDSU, quarterback Kevin O'Connell hit Brett Swain on a receiver screen and Swain went untouched down the visiting sidelines for the 80-yard touchdown.
"Well, I think it woke us up a little bit," Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It was kind of a shock to be honest with you. I thought we had a pretty good defense on that play and we didn't even touch him. So, they had good execution on it and we had fundamental breakdowns.
"We knew exactly what happened. We lost leverage and got cut on the edge. Football, you've got to do you job. Inside DB came underneath the block and we took bad pursuit angles."
But the Buckeyes rebounded and then some. Giving up just 99 yards the rest of the game was quite impressive, even against a young San Diego State offense.
"Yeah, I think the guys played hard as a team," Heacock said. "I thought all three segments played well. I thought the front did a good job with them. It enabled us to get four-man pressure, which always makes it easier to call the back end. I thought our guys back there did a nice job covering. And of course our linebackers played well. It was a real nice team effort and I think it's pretty good that they came back after that play and didn't get rattled."
Heacock says OSU made San Diego State one-dimensional. It was evident early in the game that the Aztecs were unable to successfully run the ball.
"Well, I think that was probably the key," Heacock said. "When we felt that they couldn't run the ball against us, we didn't have to blitz a lot and we really didn't have to move a whole lot. When you're able to hold up on the run, that's always a pretty good feeling because you can do some things on the back end to help you coverage. So, it was good."
Heacock enjoyed all the three-and-outs from his defense, but a coach is never satisfied.
"We had quite a few three-and-outs," he said. "We would like to get a few more turnovers and we'd like to hit the quarterback more. But those are some things that we're going to have to work on."
Bobby Carpenter saw extended action at defensive end and had two of OSU's three sacks (Mike Kudla had the other). Heacock was asked if the Buckeyes did anything fancy trying to get pressure on the quarterback.
"No, I think our front four did a really nice job," he said. "Bobby Carpenter did a good job when he came down and joined the front four. And Kudla's sack was actually on a three-man pressure. We were able to get some pressure with three and four-man and that made it easier for the back end to get some coverage."
Heacock is impressed with the way Kudla has been playing.
"He's playing well," Heacock said. "He's had three good games. Mike has always played good football since he's been here,it's just that this year he's been able to stay healthy, knock on wood."
Freshman cornerback Malcolm Jenkins got the first start of his college career as the Buckeyes opened up in their nickel defense. Jenkins played corner and Tyler Everett moved to safety, leaving Donte Whitner as the nickelback.
"Yeah, Malcolm is going to be a good football player," Heacock said. "We felt like we had to get some of those young kids in there more. Lawrence Wilson played a little bit on the D-line. We threw some of those freshmen in there and it's a long season and we're going to need all the depth we can get."
It was the usual solid game from OSU junior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. He is never going to rack up big statistics (one tackle against SDSU) but he controls the line of scrimmage and almost always gets good push.
"Personally, I think I played well," Pitcock said. "I did my responsibilities. I was in there a lot when they tried the screens and I was out there pushing the screen back in contain. I did my job. I always want to make more plays, but didn't really get a chance to."
The stretch where OSU forced six consecutive three-and-outs was about as good as the defense can play.
"Yes, that's very nice to get so many three-and-outs," Pitcock said. "The whole defense stepped up and everybody is playing hard and we were able to stuff them. Our goal is to get at least eight three-and-outs a game."
Head coach Jim Tressel was pleased with how his defense responded to early adversity and turned in its most impressive performance of the young season.
"I think obviously after the first play of the game, our defense dominated the football game and they created field position for us and made for some short fields for the offensive team and came up with a turnover on the one and just really was in total control of the football game," Tressel said. "First play went out and that happens sometimes, but what you do after you're startled a little bit, I think, talks a lot about who you are and our defense just decided, no more of that, and they shut them down."
Junior cornerback Ashton Youboty was still scratching his head afterwards when asked about the 80-yard touchdown play.
"We knew that was a mistake on our part," he said. "We probably came out a little flat. But you saw what happened after that."
But Youboty said OSU's defense knew what to expect from SDSU's offense.
"No surprises," he said. "They are who they are. They like to run the slants, curls. We already knew their patterns.
"Us being a pressure defense, our coaches figured out that our four D-linemen were doing their jobs, so we had more zone schemes and we had more people in the zone."
Youboty says creating pressure on the quarterback is the key to OSU's defense.
"Ohio State defense, we plan on pressuring any quarterback and that's our number one goal," he said. "Once we do that, then everything falls into place. If we can get our four D-linemen to do what they did, just dominate, then we'll have more help in the coverage."
Jenkins finished with three tackles and a pass break-up in what could be the first of many starts at OSU.
"Malcolm came in and did a good job," Youboty said. "The coaches are confident in him and so are the players."
And Jenkins has the ideal player to learn from in Youboty – who is as solid of a corner as there is in the Big Ten.
"I'm always in his ear, even if he doesn't want to hear it," Youboty said. "So, I guess he has to learn from me. I just tell him the basic stuff, like, ‘Stay low.' When he gets beat, I'm just like, ‘Get ready for the next play.' He's improving every week."
As for Kudla, the senior defensive end is the Darrion Scott of this season. In other words, he seems to make a big hit on the quarterback each week. On Saturday, he bull-rushed his man directly into the quarterback and recorded a sack late in the third quarter.
"Third down play, you pretty much know it's a pass situation, and they were switching tackles on me on that right side," Kudla said. "I put a good move on him and the quarterback stepped up and it was one of those perfect plays. Right place, right time, good coverage."
Kudla set the OSU record in the bench press this offseason, throwing up 610 pounds. He says being incredibly strong in the bench usually doesn't help him that much on the football field. But when he's bull-rushing offensive tackles, it sure comes in handy.
"That's one of those plays where it will help you out a little bit," he said. "I had my hands locked in – I had my hands perfect inside – and it was downhill from there. I knew I was going to get him. Just ran my feet, extended on him and stepped right into the quarterback."
Kudla didn't know that OSU had six straight three-and-outs at one point. But he does know that football is a momentum sport and once OSU's defense got the momentum going, it was lights out for the Aztecs.
"Oh definitely," Kudla said. "Once you get it going all the guys start talking about it, ‘Let's get a three-and-out here.' You just feed off it and you thrive and everyone's getting excited about it because it's one of those things that gets contagious on you."
Kudla likes the idea of playing Carpenter a lot at defensive end on the opposite side.
"That's a tough threat for an offense to face," he said. "You've got two guys coming off the edge flying and Bobby is such a great athlete. We can do so many things with that. It gives our coaches a lot of different options. It's up to the offense. You know, which way are they going to turn their protection? It's great having him down there and working with him because all of us have been together for so many years now. We're just out there playing now and it's so fun."
Carpenter is now officially known as defensive end/linebacker.
"You know, I like playing D-end," Carpenter said. "It's fun to get a little rush off the edge. Anytime you have a chance to get sacks or a free rush, it's always exciting."
Senior middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who had a big fumble recovery at SDSU's 1-yard line on the final play of the third quarter, wanted the defense to make a statement on Saturday. It was a rough beginning, but he's proud of the way the unit bounced back.
"It's all about the next play and I really feel that we took them out of their game-plan because we were able to get pressure with four guys, which keeps more guys in coverage," Schlegel said. "When you can do that, you're going to get three-and-outs. And all the speed we have on the field with people flying around hitting people, they're not going to get a lot of first downs. We took away their draws and screens which really hurt us in 2003 and I think after that it was a credit to our defense and our coaches for calling a good game."
Senior outside linebacker A.J. Hawk continued his Butkus campaign with eight tackles, which led the Buckeyes.
"It's good just to come out here and get a win and now we can set our sights on the big one next week," Hawk said, referring to the Iowa game.