Defense Slams Door (Again) Vs. Hoosiers

The OSU defense stepped forward again Saturday at Indiana. We have notes on Brandon Mitchell's interception return for a touchdown, the pressure OSU put on IU quarterback Blake Powers and the challenge that lies ahead this coming Saturday against Minnesota. Click here for more.

It had been nearly three full games since Ohio State's defense had forced a turnover.

So, when OSU junior nickel back Brandon Mitchell was able to intercept a pass by Indiana's Blake Powers and return it 57 yards for a touchdown, there was some relief on the OSU sideline.

"That was a great thing for our defense," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They play and play and play. We just thought if they kept doing what they have been doing, they would make a big play like that."

It was actually Indiana's second turnover of the game, although the first one was a muffed punt that special teams standout Antonio Smith recovered deep in IU territory.

The defense had not struck in a scrimmage situation since safety Donte Whitner intercepted a pass by Iowa's Drew Tate back on Sept. 24.

Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said he did not make a big deal about the lack of turnovers.

"We're not talking about that a whole lot," Heacock said. "We're just going out on the field and playing. If we go out and play hard, those things will happen. It's nice to get the reward and for Brandon Mitchell to get that touchdown. It was great."

The Mitchell pick came at a great time. OSU had just gotten its lead back up to two touchdowns at 24-10 in the third quarter. Powers gambled by throwing downfield into double coverage and Mitchell made the easy pick.

"Right there, when Brandon got that thing in there, that was a big momentum swing for us," said defensive end Mike Kudla. "That was huge. It boosted our morale. We were just out there plugging away and then he gets that big pick. That was a great thing."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk was also glad to see the Mitchell interception.

"That was huge for our team and our defense," said Hawk, who led the defense with seven tackles and a sack. "We were struggling getting turnovers lately. Today we finally got that one."

Bringing The Heat

One week after OSU registered 12 sacks in the win over Michigan State, the Buckeyes used less blitz pressure but still got after IU's Powers. They sacked him three times and pressured him countless other times.

"We were trying to get four-man pressure," Heacock said. "We felt like we had to get good coverage back there and re-route receivers. They've got some great receivers and they're a great offensive football team. They throw the ball well. We ended up trying to go with the three- and four-man pressure and not blitzing quite as much.

"We had Mike and Bobby (Carpenter) coming off the edge and I thought our inside guys did a good job of getting a push. It was pretty much a team effort. As long as we play like a team, I think we can do pretty well."

Kudla had another fine game with three tackles, including a huge sack on Powers late in the third quarter. The play pushed Indiana back and, a play later, IU kicker Joe Kleinsmith missed a 40-yard field goal.

"The offense did a good job of controlling the ball on them," Kudla said. "They were getting pinned back deep. It was a combination of a great team effort. It's nice to blitz sometimes, but you can't do it all the time. Today, we did a nice job of blitzing and then sitting back with coverage.

"The first thing was stopping them from running. We did that and made them one-dimensional. Our corners did a great job of locking them down. We had great coverage again today. You can't say enough about our back end. They were really working their butts off."

Kudla was flagged for roughing the passer early in the second quarter, prolonging an IU drive that led to a field goal – the only three points surrendered by the defense in the 41-10 win.

"I didn't feel it was," Kudla said. "He just finished throwing and I was within one step. I was laying out anyways. That was just a ref's decision. It happened and we had to move on."

Hawk talked about the heat the Buckeyes put on Powers.

"We kept pressure on the quarterback and made it tough for him to find open guys," he said. "We knew he would try to get it to their open guys. I think we did a good job of shutting them down today. I think our front seven did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback.

"Our front four does a great job when we need them to. A guy like Mike Kudla does a great job on an up-and-under and he gets a great sack."

Powers ended up completing just 13 of 29 passes for 72 yards with an interception. Hawk talked about the job OSU did on IU's receivers, including key target James Hardy, who got two catches for 27 yards.

"I don't think we did anything special," Hawk said. "We just had an idea of how they were trying to attack us. We made sure we got our hands on receivers downfield and made sure they didn't run unabated downfield."

Carpenter added three tackles and two pass break-ups.

"People think that because we have a lot of sacks, we're blitzing a lot," he said. "But we get pressure with three guys or four guys. Then, if we bring five or six, we have to get pressure then. The big thing is we have guys up front who want to get pressure.

"I think that shows how good our DBs are. People say our secondary is really not that good, but the guys we have playing are play makers. They shut down good receivers. My hat's off to them.

"Overall, there's always stuff to work on. We didn't play nearly as well as we should have or could have."

Quick Change Artists

Kudla's big sack of Powers came a few plays after IU's Jahkeen Gilmore had returned an OSU kickoff 68 yards to the OSU 32-yard line.

"Our guys have done a good job of going in and handling the sudden change," Heacock said. "They handle that adversity. I think that was a key factor that we were able to keep them out of the end zone and off the scoreboard. We were able to control the run. When you're able to do that, you're able to turn your front four loose and get a little bit of pressure on them."

Kudla said the Buckeyes pride themselves of putting out fires caused by turnovers or long returns.

"We're used to that," he said. "It goes back to camp and it's called sudden change. It's our job to be tough and not let them get a yard. At worst, you want to force a field goal and, after that, you want to try and block it. That's our goal to stop them from doing anything."

Hawk added, "That stuff happens in the course of a game and the course of a season. When they get the momentum, we like to get it back for our team."

Something Has To Give

Ohio State travels to Minnesota this coming Saturday (noon, ABC). That game will match up the nation's top-rated running game (299.1 yards per game) against OSU's top-ranked run defense.

The OSU defense was second nationally in rushing defense coming into the Indiana game, but moved into the No. 1 spot after holding IU to 23 yards rushing. OSU lowered its average from 66.2 yards allowed per game down to 62.7.

Nebraska was the national leader at 65.0 yards per game, but the Huskers surrendered 277 yards on the ground in a loss to Missouri.

Following the win over Indiana, OSU players discussed the challenge ahead at Minnesota.

"That's probably going to be the shortest game we play all year," Carpenter said. "They will probably run it 50 times a game. They have a big, physical line. They do a lot of zone blocking and they cut a lot. Their running backs run hard. We'll have to try and stop (Laurence) Maroney and (Gary) Russell and hopefully get after them."

Kudla said OSU's run defense is only getting better.

"Each week, we get better at it," he said. "Guys are filling their gaps. We're a gap-sound defense. As long as everybody fills their gap, across the board there should be a wall. Today, we did a good job of doing that. We need to do that next week and try and make them one-dimensional where they have to go to the air."

Hawk said the Buckeyes know they will be in for a battle against Minnesota, which has averaged 36.6 points per game this season.

"Obviously, if you've seen them on film you know that Laurence Maroney is one of the best backs in the country," he said. "He's running behind a great offensive line. He gets a ton of yards every game. He's a good hard runner. It will be a great test for our defense, I think."

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