Defensive Notebook: Intercepting Shutout

The OSU defense keeps getting better and better. And better. They had their strongest performance yet in the shutout win over Minnesota and continue to become a championship defense. Kyle Lamb has a defensive notebook from Saturday's win.

Without an ounce of drama, the Ohio State defense completed their most complete effort to date on Saturday – a 44-0 shutout of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment of a game that the Buckeyes led for 56 minutes was midway through the fourth quarter when Ohio State returned the first-team defense on a fourth-and-one on their own 15-yard line, hoping to preserve a shutout and 37-0 advantage.

Following a muffed Malcolm Jenkins punt return, Minnesota advanced down to the Ohio State 15-yard line following a pair of first downs. They hoped to gain yet another first down and rid of the giant goose egg on the scoreboard.

But Ohio State's defense prevailed, stuffing quarterback Bryan Cupito on a sneak up the middle, preserving the shutout – possibly the most exciting moment of the entire game for both the defense and the 105,443 people in attendance.

Ohio State had begun trickling in several second and third team defensive players until the lost fumble. Apparently determined to keep the shutout intact, the Buckeyes returned a majority of their starters for the big defensive stand.

"Yeah we probably did (put the starters back in)," said OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, reluctantly admitting they were cognizant of the shutout. "We talked about it at halftime and I know that was a goal of these kids – give them an opportunity. They responded."

With a 17-point halftime lead and another sizeable victory for the No. 1-ranked Ohio State against Minnesota, the naked eye doesn't see a whole lot of challenge to this point.

Unlike the 2002 season where often Ohio State had thrilling finishes and sweaty-palm wins that came down to the wire, this team is not leaving any room for discussion as to who's No. 1.

"One of our mottos is, ‘let there be no doubt,'" said cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. "If we want to be No. 1 we can't have those games. We don't want anybody to pass us up so we have to come out and dominate."

Jenkins added the defense is looking every time out to give up as few points and yards as possible.

Although the Golden Gophers managed a pedestrian 182 total yards on Saturday, they came away with zero points. Although Heacock downplayed the importance of a shutout, he didn't deny it was a big deal to his defense.

"We don't talk about it – it's not something you talk about," he said, "but I think it's something that every defensive unit wants."

The Buckeyes held the rush-oriented Golden Gophers to 47 yards on the ground. However, it was Ohio State's pass coverage that especially tormented Cupito and Minnesota.

Although Ohio State managed only two sacks on the afternoon, they were often in Cupito's face causing several off-target passes including several wounded ducks – a few of which ended up in the arms of Ohio State defensive backs.

All total, the Buckeyes picked off three Cupito passes. Interceptions by Jenkins, Antonio Smith and safety Jamario O'Neal extended their season total to 18 as a team, which is tied for No. 2 nationally.

"One of the things is we're fortunate that we're getting some pressure," Heacock explained. "I think two of those interceptions, we were hitting the quarterback when he threw it and that helps. To get sacks you need good coverage and to get interceptions you have to get good pressure. I go back to the team concept with these interceptions."

The Ohio State defense made a believer out of Minnesota head coach Glen Mason, if he wasn't already one.

All the talk of losing nine defensive starters has become irrelevant nine games into the season.

"I think a lot of coaches expected to see a drop-off because of the caliber of players they lost last year, but there has been no drop off," Mason said. "We saw it today and so have the other teams that have played them this year."

Ohio State's offense, which has needed very little help this season, has taken notice of the contributions the defense has made to the team in 2006.

"Thanks to the D for shutting them out again and getting us some good turnovers and good field position all day," said offensive lineman Doug Datish, "they really did a great job for us."

Defensive Notes

* The shutout was the first since 2003 (20-0 victory versus Northwestern). Ohio State is now giving up a national-best 7.3 points a game. The Buckeyes have allowed no more than one touchdown in eight of nine games and have not allowed a touchdown in three of those games.

* Ohio State has allowed only two rushing touchdowns this season.

* The Buckeyes have forced 20 turnovers including 18 interceptions – with at least one in each game. Ohio State has converted 20 turnovers into 87 points while allowing zero points off turnovers to their opponents.

* The Buckeyes are tied for ninth nationally in total defense (261 yards a game).

* Ohio State is now giving up just 91 yards rushing a game (No.18 nationally).

* Giving up just 30.5 percent on third downs, Ohio State is No. 16 in the nation in third-down percentage defense.

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