October 2, 2012

Week 5: Evaluating the Buckeyes' defense

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Each week at Buckeye Grove, we'll examine the current state of the Ohio State position groups, with insight from Buckeyes' players and coaches.

Earlier today, we took a look at the Ohio State offense, which earned high praise from Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer following OSU's 17-16 win at Michigan State on Saturday. Now we'll examine the Buckeyes' defense, which also performed admirably in the first Big Ten win of Meyer's career.

Defensive Line

After the Buckeyes managed to hold MSU running back Le'Veon Bell to a season-low 45 yards on Saturday, Meyer gave a collective game ball to both his defensive line and linebackers for their efforts against the nation's third leading rusher. A big part of the Buckeyes' success had to do with the play of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins[/db, who along with [db]John Simon graded out with a champion performance in Saturday's game.

"We just as a defense and a D-line, we just did our core values and played physical," Hankins said. "It was fun that they were coming at me and trying to run the ball. It was a good game."

OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel knows that his unit will have its hands full this weekend against a Nebraska team that enjoyed a come-from-behind win over the Buckeyes a season ago, and similar success against Wisconsin last Saturday.

"What happens in sports is, I'm sure they drew on last year's Ohio State game at some point in time," Vrabel said. "They kept coming, and they kept coming, and they made a play late in the game to win the game."


After spending the majority of the first four weeks of the season receiving criticism for their tackling woes, the Buckeyes' linebackers came to play against the Spartans. Both Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino earned champion performances from Meyer for their efforts, with the latter being named OSU's offensive player of the game.

"It's hard for me to say he's not my favorite player on this team," Meyer said of Sabino. "He's been a classic underachiever. Now he's a leader. He's a grown man. I have conversations with him like I would a coach. I listen to him."

Sabino agreed with Meyer's assessment of his performance against the Spartans, calling it the best game that he's played in his college career.

"I felt great out there," Sabino said. "I just think we took a step forward as a defense holding a great rusher to under 50 yards."

Defensive Backs

Although none of the Michigan State wide receivers are going to be confused for All-Americans, the OSU secondary played well on Saturday, with both starting cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard grading out with winning performances. Roby was also named the team's special teams player of the week after recording the Buckeyes' first blocked punt of the season.

"I try to make as many plays as possible," Roby said. "It was something that was cool."

With much of the OSU defense's effort focused on stopping Bell, both cornerbacks were often left in one-on-one man coverage, which they responded well to considering that no MSU wideout recorded more than five receptions against the Buckeyes.

"It was most definitely the game plan. We knew that they wanted to run the ball so that is what we were focused on," Howard said. "We had to make them one dimensional and shut down the run and make the quarterback beat us by throwing the ball."


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