Improved Defensive Line Play Has Led Buckeyes

Ohio State's defensive line has turned its fortunes around after back-to-back solid efforts against Purdue and Michigan State. Read on to find out more about the line's resurgence and how its continued improvement could be Ohio State's key to victory Saturday night.

Midway through the 2008 season, Ohio State's defensive line was seen as a group that could not pressure quarterbacks or consistently stop opponents' rushing attacks.

What a different a couple of weeks makes.

The line is coming off its best two performances of the season in wins over Purdue and Michigan State. After ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in sacks (1.5) and tackles for a loss (4.5) through the Wisconsin game, the Buckeyes have rebounded after the defensive line took its struggles as a personal challenge.

"The last thing we wanted to see is us being the weak point of the defense," senior tackle Nader Abdallah said. "Right now we've taken it upon ourselves to make sure that's not going to happen."

Ohio State held Purdue's spread offense in check Oct. 11 in an 16-3 victory. The defense starred, sacking quarterback Curtis Painter twice and recording 6.0 tackles for loss. The line led the way. Sophomore end Thaddeus Gibson finished with 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. Abdallah also had a tackle for loss and a sack.

The defense again silenced a solid offense a week later. Heisman Trophy candidate Javon Ringer was held in check, and the Buckeyes cruised to a 45-7 win in East Lansing. Once again, the defense pressured the quarterback and halted its opponent's rushing attack. Ohio State had 7.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, with linemates Cameron Heyward (1.0) and Abdallah (0.5) combining for 3.0 TFLs.

"We're stepping our game up every week and trying to get better, making plays because the defense is going to feed off us as a defensive line," Abdallah said. "If we're effecting the quarterback, everybody else is going to have a great day."

The line did not miss a beat against the Spartans despite the absence of junior Lawrence Wilson, who was lost for the season after suffering a leg injury vs. Purdue. Rob Rose started at end in Wilson's place against MSU and played well.

"He's got to continue to get better, but I think he will as he gets more confidence in himself," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said of Rose, who did not register a tackle against the Spartans but did have a quarterback hurry. "The good thing for him was that he got in there and getting him some plays and activities."

Linebackers Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis are two of the players benefiting from the line's improved play. The duo has combined for 35 tackles and 2.0 sacks over the past two weeks.

"They've gotten better each week and they're doing a great job of getting a push in the backfield and opening a lot of gaps for linebackers to run," Freeman said. "I think it all starts with them. As they go, we go as a team. The past two weeks they've been playing great, great football. It's helping this defense play better."

The line will face a stiff challenge Saturday night against Penn State's offensive line, which is led by senior center A.Q. Shipley. Count Heacock among those impressed with the Nittany Lions' front five. Heacock described the PSU line as one that tries to reach the second level of the defense the linebackers and secondary quickly.

"They're as good as I've seen," Heacock said. "They're work well together. ... They do a good job of getting off blocks and to the second level, and they know what they're doing. They've worked together for a while now. They're really good at what they do."

Abdallah said the goal for Saturday is simple.

"We pretty much have to destroy the offensive line," Abdallah said. "We have to come off the ball and just attack them at the point of attack and play on their side (of the line of scrimmage). If we're getting single blocked, we have to be able to get off the blocks and make plays."

If the defensive line can make plays, Ohio State could be well on its way to knocking off the third-ranked Nittany Lions.

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