OSU Defense Starts With Man In The Middle

Ohio State fans might not notice when No. 72 engages two blockers on one play, but they do notice when No. 36, No. 51 or anyone else is able to read the quarterback's eyes and make an interception. Dexter Larimore is putting together a solid season in the middle of the Buckeye defense line in an important but largely unsung role.

If Dexter Larimore plays his role correctly, only a few extra-interested observers will notice him during his homecoming this weekend.

Larimore, a native of Merrillville, Ind., will line up at his defensive tackle spot for Ohio State this Saturday when the Buckeyes trip to take on the Indiana Hoosiers for the first time since the 2005 season. If OSU is able to pitch its third consecutive shutout, it will likely do so with some unsung contributions from Larimore.

The 6-2, 300-pound lineman plugs the holes in the middle of the defensive line – a job that does not result in much personal glory. In four games this season, Larimore has 16 tackles but none for loss. But without his contributions, the OSU defensive line would not be the focal point of a defense that currently sits seventh in the country in scoring defense at 11.25 points per game.

"Dex made the most plays in the USC game trying to dominate that center and dominate that point of attack," senior lineman Doug Worthington said. "It's something that we appreciate him (for). He might not get the things that I get as far as being interviewed, but he's made more plays than most of the D-linemen the whole year but not as many tackles and sacks."

The Buckeyes have slightly altered their defense this season by typically only lining up with three linemen with their hands on the ground while a fourth – typically Thaddeus Gibson – roams around one of the ends while standing up. In essence, Larimore is playing the role of nose guard.

That is a task that typically involves taking on double teams and trying to engage as many offensive linemen as possible so that the other defenders can make plays.

It can be a thankless job.

"As long as we're winning I'm happy," he said. "As long as our defense is performing, that's what matters to me."

When Larimore is having a productive game, players such as Cameron Heyward, Worthington and Gibson are beneficiaries up front. In the type of defense OSU plays, Worthington said the Buckeyes need a player like Larimore in the middle.

"You need a guy with leverage," Worthington said. "You need a guy who uses his hands well, somebody who is gritty in there and Dex and Todd do a great job of doing that. They're out there and they know they might not make the play, but they know the play is made by them just taking up some blocks and being in their gaps and using their hands and pushing the ball up the field."

Larimore said his objective is not simply to take up defenders, however. His goal is to make a noticeable impact on the play.

"The best way is if I can get penetration and make the (running) back cut," he said. "That's going to be the best. I try to get upfield. I never just sit there and try to take on guys. It's always production, trying to get upfield, try to make a tackle, try to make something happen. I try to get them out of what they do."

He can do that best against teams that prefer to line up and go right at the Buckeyes rather than teams that try to spread the field and use screens to get the ball up the field. A powerful attack gives Larimore less opportunity to think.

"I like to think in the classroom but not on the football field," he said. "On the football field I'd just rather play football. I don't like to be thinking and wondering what they're doing. If they come at me and they beat me up I commend them, and if I beat them up then I know I have a good game."

Ironically, what might have been Larimore's best play of the season was for naught. Facing USC in week two, the Trojans had the ball fourth-and-goal from the OSU 1-yard line and handed off to tailback Stafon Johnson. From his spot in the middle of the line, Larimore cut right and wrestled Johnson down near the shadow of the end zone.

It looked close, but the play was ruled a touchdown. Larimore saw it differently, but did not offer an immediate protest.

"I knew I had the ball in my hands so I knew he didn't get it across the end zone," he said. "I think if we would've stopped them there we would've had a lot of momentum, but things happen. They didn't catch it and I didn't really put up a fight and say we had them down."

It had the potential to be a game-changing play, but Larimore's hope is that it is not the last time he has the chance to have a visible impact on a game.

"We're putting the best players at the best positions," he said. "I play the one technique on the line and the guys that play the end play the best. Having Thad on the edge helps us. Being able to work with our strengths really helps this team. That's why we're being so successful."

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