Silver Bullets Finished Like Champions

Throughout the 2009 season, there was one constant for the Ohio State football team: The Buckeyes' Silver Bullet defense was excellent throughout. So it was only fitting the Buckeyes shut down Oregon's hyped offense in the Rose Bowl, capping off perhaps the best season of Jim Heacock's five standout years.

After No. 8 Ohio State kept high-powered Oregon to only 17 points and 260 yards in its Rose Bowl victory on New Year's Day, OSU defensive end Thaddeus Gibson said he still thought the Ducks had the best offense in the country.

What, then, of the defensive unit that kept Oregon more than 20 points and 164 yards below its season averages?

"We're pretty damn good," Gibson said of the Silver Bullets. "Pretty damn good."

Let there be no doubt that Gibson was on the money. With a handful of bowl games still remaining as of Jan. 3, the Buckeyes are in the top 10 in the nation in all four of the major defensive categories kept by the NCAA at fifth in passing efficiency defense, fifth in yardage allowed per game, sixth in scoring defense and seventh in rushing D.

It turns out the Buckeyes stated defensive slogan that started in camp and lasted throughout the season – "No names, no blame, no worries" – wasn't necessary. For the year, there was very little blame, very few worries and plenty of names established by the Scarlet and Gray.

For instance, there's safety Kurt Coleman, simply one of the best in the game as his position after finishing with 68 tackles and with a hand in nine forced turnovers. Ross Homan established himself as the latest in a line of sure-tackling Buckeye linebackers, making 108 tackles including a game-best 12 during a dominating performance in Pasadena.

Brian Rolle added 95 tackles and provided a big-play presence, and then there was the defensive line with at least three true stars – Gibson, Cameron Heyward and senior Doug Worthington. Heyward had 46 tackles and 6.5 sacks and was unblockable at times, while Gibson matured into an every-down end with 45 tackles and 13 TFL and Worthington chipped in 42 tackles while proving to be hard to block one-on-one.

Those players combined to save their best for last, producing an opus against the seventh-ranked Ducks, a team that had 40 points in seven of its last nine games. Oregon's 53 plays were the second-fewest in Rose Bowl history, and the Ducks scored only seven second-half points despite having an average starting position of the 47-yard line on five drives in the half.

In addition, standout quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was kept to 81 yards passing and 9 rushing after entering the game putting up 247.7 yards of offense per contest, while LaMichael James' streak of seven straight 100-yard games ended and first-team All-Pac-10 tight end Ed Dickson was held without a catch.

"We worked at it," Gibson said of the Buckeyes' bowl prep. "All throughout bowl practice, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We knew that we could take these guys. No disrespect to those guys because I personally think they're the best offense in the country, but the way this defense worked, something good had to come."

Against the Ducks, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said that the defense was somewhat simplified, a decision that perhaps seems surprising against the deception-based UO offense but one that suited this Buckeye squad. Throughout the season, Heacock drew up a scheme that was less nuanced than previous editions in an effort to get the most out of this team, one that excelled at playing with a reckless abandon.

"The thing about this particular team is that they do their best when they know exactly what they're doing," the fifth-year DC said. "You know, we've tried to put stuff in along the way and it never turned out quite as well as we hoped, so we learned just to stay with the basics. This is a team that really excels when it's comfortable with what it's doing. You knew they were always going to play hard for you. That was never in question. So we just tried to put them in the best possible situation for them to excel."

And that they did. The Buckeyes didn't allow a 100-yard rusher all season long, even when facing the likes of James or Wisconsin's John Clay, who also averaged the century mark in games. The defense's 35 turnovers are tied at the moment for second in the nation with Texas. Ohio State's three shutouts were the most since 1996, and the scoring average of 12.54 points allowed was the best of the Tressel era.

While Heacock wouldn't say this was the best of his defenses – all five of which have been ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring average – he did have high praise for the unit.

"Oh, I can't (rank them). That's like asking me which one of my kids I like the best," Heacock said. "The thing about this team I will say is that it has really bought into the team concept. We said pretty early on that it was a no-name group without a bunch of stars who were going to up for national honors or getting their names mentioned on national television a lot. But they really played hard.

"Maybe prepared hard would be an even better description. They prepared like crazy for every game and never got caught up in the hype or what else was going on around them. They just got ready to play and today's game was a perfect example of that."

Heacock will be asked to coordinate another highly ranked unit next year, and he'll have to do it without players like Coleman, Worthington and senior contributors Austin Spitler, Todd Denlinger and Lawrence Wilson, plus players like Gibson, Heyward and corner Chimdi Chekwa will consider NFL options.

Still, there's no debating the future looks rosy – pun intended – with everything the Buckeyes bring back from their postseason-championship squad.

"I think we're going to keep getting better," end Nathan Williams said. "We're going to lose some guys like Kurt and Doug and maybe a couple of others if they decide to leave early, but we've got a lot of young guys and a lot of talent, so I think we're only going to keep getting better and better. I can't wait to get started. The way we played tonight, I wish the season began tomorrow."

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