Defense's Goose Eggs Result Of Team Play

The Ohio State defense has been dominant for years, but that doesn't mean it still can't establish a first in the Jim Tressel era. For the first time in his tenure, the Buckeyes have posted back-to-back shutouts, and both blankings have come against talented offenses. Find out what's behind OSU's defensive domination.

During head coach Jim Tressel's eight-plus seasons at Ohio State, the one thing the team seemingly always has been able to hang its hat on is excellent defense.

But never before during Tressel's tenure had the team posted consecutive shutouts until Saturday afternoon. Adding Saturday's blanking of Illinois by a 30-0 score in Ohio Stadium to last week's 38-0 win against Toledo, the Buckeyes captured their first back-to-back shutouts since 1996.

For the past two weeks, when the Silver Bullets have been flying, the opposing teams have been far from bulletproof. The edition of the Buckeye defense has proven it's keen to the task of continuing the tradition of that moniker despite losing key members such as James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and Malcolm Jenkins from last year's squad.

"There's a lot of pride and legacy in being a Silver Bullet at Ohio State, something that's been going on for many, many years and they take a lot of pride in making sure that they can uphold that tradition," head coach Jim Tressel said. "They play hard."

Hard might be an understatement. The Buckeyes over the past two weeks have lived up to that bullet name by flying to the ball, achieving their long-stated goal of affecting to the quarterback and taking the run game completely away from opposing teams.

"It's so fun," said senior captain Austin Spitler, one of three full-time captains, all on the defensive side of the ball. "It's unbelievable. Our confidence is obviously skyrocketing right now, and we play so much better when we're confident."

The numbers the Buckeyes posted against Illinois in the rain were eye-popping. The Fighting Illini were held to 82 yards on the ground on 34 tries, an average of 2.4 yards per rush. Through the air, Illinois had just 88 yards, averaging 3.0 yards per attempt and 5.9 per completion while throwing three interceptions.

Ohio State added five sacks, three other tackles for loss and forced three fumbles. All of that was accomplished against an offense that passed the 400-yard mark each of the past two years vs. OSU.

"We gave all we had," defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said. "We gave great effort. I think we just did everything right today."

During the last three games, the Silver Bullets have really been flying after struggling to make heads or tails of Navy's triple option look in week one. Of opposing teams' last 37 drives, only three have ended in scores, including one 2-yard drive by USC. The other 34 have ended thusly: with 25 punts, seven turnovers and two game endings.

Not that the Buckeyes have been satisfied with those results.

"I think the great thing about this defense is we're hungry and never satisfied with what happens," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We had a shutout last week against a great opponent, but we knew Illinois was going to come in with a lot of fire so we had to match that excellency and exceed it so we had to get out there and exceed everyone's expectations because we know we're the best."

The shutting down of USC, Toledo and Illinois has been a team effort. Up front, the Buckeyes have put quarterbacks under constant pressure, often with three- or four-man rushes.

"That's where it all starts," safety Jermale Hines said of the front four. "This year coming in we feel like we have one of the best D-lines in the country, and it's showing."

The linebacker corps has been just as strong, flying across the field to stop both USC's downhill running game and Toledo and Illinois' spread attacks. Brian Rolle has made 24 stops over the past three games with a half sack and an interception, while Ross Homan has added 16 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception despite missing most of the Illinois game with an injury.

And the secondary has avoided giving up the big play while breaking up most of the smaller ones too. The longest pass completed against Ohio State over the past three games was just 29 yards, and only five passes have topped 20 yards. The past three teams have combined to complete just 52 of 106 (49.1 percent) of their passes.

In addition, that excellent coverage has helped the defensive line get pressure and a coverage sack or two.

"They help us out, we help them out," Hines said. "It's a team thing. Everybody just does their job."

Next up will be an Indiana team that just put 33 points on the board against Michigan in the Big House. A third straight shutout would be OSU's first since 1973, and the Buckeyes haven't even shut out three teams in a year since 1980.

"That's going to be very difficult, but we just have to keep going out there working, have everybody do their job," Hines said.


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