October 23, 2012

Week 8: Evaluating the Buckeyes' defense

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- One week after being at the brunt of criticism from fans, media, and coaches alike, the Ohio State defense bounced back on Saturday, only allowing 19 points in the Buckeyes' overtime victory over Purdue. Seven OSU defenders graded out with 'champion' performances against the Boilermakers, which is something that appears to have given both coaches and players confidence heading into the Buckeyes' Big Ten battle with Penn State this weekend.



Defensive line



The Buckeyes didn't manage to record a sack on Saturday, but that didn't stop John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, and Nathan Williams from all grading out with champion efforts against the Boilermakers. Playing a hybrid end/linebacker position, Williams was impressed with how the OSU defense rose to the occasion, especially in the absence of star quarterback Braxton Miller on offense.



"We had a solid defensive game plan and we executed very well today," Williams said. "We knew the offense was struggling, especially when Braxton went out, so we had to step up and make plays."


Leading the defensive line with nine tackles on Saturday, Simon was especially pleased with how the defense bounce backed and followed its plan following its forgettable effort against Indiana a week ago.


"I thin we played physical and angry. That was the plan," Simon said. "We're a very self-motivated group of guys."


Linebackers



In what head coach Urban Meyer called the best game of his OSU career, Ryan Shazier earned defensive player of the game honors for his 12-tackle performance against Purdue. The sophomore linebacker played a key role in getting the OSU defense back on track after it allowed an 83-yard touchdown reception to Akeem Shavers on the opening play of the game.



"After the first play of the game we just needed to remember we have a lot of game left. We were down, but everyone had each other's back," Shazier said. "We knew they would score. We just kept pushing and no one had their head down."


One of the Ohio State starters on defense who didn't grade out as a champion was middle linebacker Zach Boren, although according to Meyer, the senior captain is improving rapidly after having just switched from linebacker to fullback two weeks ago. For his part, Boren is already speaking like a defensive player, which was apparent in the way he talked about OSU's final defensive stand in overtime to win the game.


"We knew after the offense scored to send the game to overtime it was time for the defense to step up and close the game," Boren said. "I was confident we would be able to."


Defensive backs



Despite the gaffe on the game's opening play, the OSU secondary stepped up on Saturday, with three players in the unit grading out with higher than a 95 percent success rate. One of those players was safety Christian Bryant, who is putting together a stellar junior year and alongside corners Bradley Roby and Travis Howard is helping to form one of the more dominant secondaries in the Big Ten.



"We had a good defensive unit today," Bryant said after the game. "We did our job and contained the football like the coaches told us to do this entire week in practice."


OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers said he noticed a change in the Buckeyes' defensive backs in the days leading up to the game against Purdue, and that their extra efforts paid off against the Boilermakers.


"This past week, they probably had their best week of practice as far as preparation," Withers said. "We were challenged, obviously, from the Indiana game to play better. And I think the guys accepted the challenge. Part of that accepting the challenge is preparing better. And I think our guys prepared better."






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