Ohio State Football Notebook: Pride at Stake for Buckeye Defense

By Kyle Rowland on October 22, 2013 at 5:00p
Michael Bennett is primed for a big game Saturday.

Mike Vrabel has never been one to mince words and he certainly wasn’t in a shy mood on Monday. Asked about the defense’s performance in the first half of Ohio State’s 34-24 win over Iowa last Saturday, Vrabel was direct.

“Call it what it was. They beat the shit out of us,” he said. 

Michael Bennett’s assessment was in lockstep with the party line.

“I guess I’m not allowed to cuss,” he said. “But I would say the same thing. There’s no way around it. They just beat the crap out of us.”

It’s hard to disagree with either assessment. The Hawkeyes led 17-10 at halftime, amassing 222 yards and converting seven of nine third-down attempts. The defensive line was continually shoved two and three yards off the line by Iowa’s offensive line.

“Can it be fixed? Absolutely. We’re still a good rush defense,” Meyer said. “We’ve got to continue to work because we’ve dealt with some injuries and depth issues, and we’ve got to play better. But I’m very, very concerned.”

Concern has become the most popular word in Meyer’s vocabulary in regards to the defense. Prior to Saturday, it was reserved for a secondary that had struggled most of the season. Through three conference games, Ohio State is allowing 26 points per game, far from the level many expected from a unit touted to be among the Big Ten’s best. 

A former college and NFL standout, Vrabel has little use for a lack of effort. During the first 30 minutes Saturday afternoon, his temperature rose on a wet, cold, gray day inside Ohio Stadium. Vrabel had no problem calling the defensive line soft in lamenting their inability to slow down a previously production-challenged Iowa offense. When the clock hit 0:00 in the second quarter, he sprinted up the tunnel to the locker room.

“Effort and toughness have to be perfect for us,” Vrabel said. “You’re not going to make every single play, we understand that. No one is going to grade 100 percent. But we feel you should be able to grade 100 percent in toughness and effort.”

The unit graded out nearly perfect in the second half. Aside from a one-play, 85-yard scoring drive, the Hawkeyes were rendered ineffective for the final 30 minutes of the game. Ohio State outscored Iowa 24-7 in the second half and held them to 50 total yards if you erase the 85-yard touchdown. The Hawkeyes also had one third-down conversion after the break.

“We came out in the second half with a chip on our shoulder like we needed,” Bennett said. “But we can’t start a game like that again. I don’t know what the deal was. But I think it was, especially on the D-line, a mental thing. We were doing something different than we usually do.”

When they’ve faced good throwers of the football, the defense has struggled more often than not this season. Saturday night presents another challenge in that realm. Christian Hackenberg may be a true freshman, but he’s already shown poise and production of a veteran.

Penn State is in the mold of a power offense that utilizes the running backs and tight ends. The Nittany Lions also possess wide receiver Alan Robinson, arguably the best skill player in the Big Ten. But Bennett is confident the defensive line and raucous atmosphere will get to the first-year quarterback.

“We know if we put some pressure on him, we can make him nervous,” he said. “We think we have the guys to put pressure on him. If we get in the pocket like we do most teams, he might get nervous and force some throws.

“We can’t let the quarterback sit back there. When the quarterback doesn’t have pressure, it’s because someone’s not winning when they should be. The expectations for the D-line are really high, especially in our unit room. We really need to start taking ownership of the pass as well.”

Christian Hackenberg is playing like a fifth-year senior.Hackenberg is already 1-0 against Michigan.

Freshman Phenom

More than a week after the biggest win of his young career and a monumental win for the Penn State football program, quarterback Christian Hackenberg must ready for the biggest test of his seven-game career. Ohio Stadium has not been kind to visitors throughout its history. Penn State signal-callers have found that out the hard way, through losses and a plethora of pick-sixes.

The Nittany Lions have won three games in Ohio Stadium. If Hackenberg wins the fourth on Saturday night, his legend will already be cemented with five games left in his freshman season. A five-play, 80-yard drive in Beaver Stadium under the stars against Michigan Oct. 12 lifted his growing celebrity to new heights.

“Right now, I really haven’t had the opportunity to sit back and understand it,” Hackenberg told reporters last week. “My mind is really focused on Ohio State now. But being able to sit down and watch the game on replay on the Big Ten Network, I think it’s a real testament to our team and the resilience we’ve had all year.”

That statement could be changed to reflect the past two seasons. Penn State was hit with unprecedented sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal, leaving the football program to be cleaned up off the side of the road. But the exact opposite has happened. While the likes of USC, Miami, Alabama and even Ohio State (for one season) languished under the watchful eye of the NCAA, Penn State has, somehow, thrived. Head coach Bill O’Brien has made it clear he can coach and attract talent to Central Pennsylvania.

Hackenberg, a five-star recruit from Fork Union Military Academy, is the biggest example of that. With no postseason play in what would be his first three seasons, Hackenberg still opted to wear the Blue and White.

During the bye week, he used his spare time to study Ohio State and attempt to familiarize himself with hostile environments. The coaching staff helped out by blasting crowd noise in practice. Veterans will lend their opinions to Hackenberg on playing through the commotion Saturday and which cadences to utilize.

Having Alan Robinson split wide should boost Hackenberg’s confidence. Robinson has 705 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions in six games.

“It’s a comfort zone and understanding that you can be a little less accurate and knowing that he can still come down with the ball,” Hackenberg said. “Definitely having him out there helps.”

It will put stress on an Ohio State secondary that’s reeling. Bradley Roby’s ejection last week was the latest in long line of head-shaking moments this season. Roby’s play has been far from All-American caliber, Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending injury and a veteran unit just hasn’t performed up to par.

Meyer sees them turning the corner, though, especially the unquestioned leader, Roby.

“He works his tail off,” Meyer said. “He’s got a great work ethic, attitude, he’s coming back every day. He’s going to finish the year strong.”

Top Deck

Two players stuck out in Ohio State’s season opener – Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Ohio State offensive lineman Taylor Decker. Unfortunately for Decker, his performance was noticeable because Mack made him look silly multiple times.

More than halfway into the season now, Decker’s quickly become a strong link in a dominant chain along the offensive line. And first-game jitters against a future first-round draft pick are excusable, even to no-nonsense line coach Ed Warinner.

“I’ve done this a long time,” Warinner said. “You have to believe in the decisions you made, you have to believe in the talent you see and you have to know if you stay the course and you do things the right way usually they work out pretty well for you. I didn’t have any doubt that at some point [Decker] would turn the corner and he did the next game. He played very solid and it’s continued to just get better and better.”

The offensive line was a known strength entering the season, at least four of the five goliaths were. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall were all stalwarts a year ago, forging a dependable line that hadn’t been seen in years at Ohio State. The question became, how would Decker fit in?

In the beginning, he may have put too much pressure on himself. He was aware of the storylines being written and didn’t want to be the outcast on an otherwise resolute unit. The Buffalo game didn’t help matters.

“It was a tough pill to swallow, but I just had to bounce back and recover and play the way I knew I could play,” Decker said. “I knew that that wasn’t me. That wasn’t how I had been playing and how I performed in camp prior to the game and the weeks leading into it.”

If any doubt lingered in the weeks following Decker’s debut, they’ve since been erased. He has asserted himself as a key cog on the line, and in recent weeks, the O-line has flexed its muscle in must-move-the-ball situations. During the second half of the Northwestern and Iowa games, the Ohio State line has taken up the scorched earth policy and left nothing standing in its wake. Carlos Hyde has rushed more than 200 yards and scored five touchdowns during those 60 minutes.

"I feel good about [Decker], and I feel good about the line and that’s where winning football starts.”

Decker has graded out a champion in two of the past six games and earned his three claps in the offensive line meeting room. Three claps from your teammates is akin to a pat on the back, a sign of respect and token of their appreciation.

“The coaches kept their trust in me and they kept coaching me hard and my teammates picked me up,” Decker said. “I feel like because of that I’ve been able to improve.”


Comments Show All Comments

Borrowed Time's picture

gonna need Decker more than ever next year too. Keep up that hard work!

CharlieBuckeye's picture

I believe Vrabel has the D-lines undivided attention and we will see a vey different outcome in the 1st half as opposed to last game.  In the secondary, I hope Coach Myers is a soothsayer and can see into the future regarding Roby and him having a breakout game this weekend.  Unbelievable talent having an underachieving year to date. 
The linebackers will have to be clutch and get their drops in covering crossing patterns by the tight ends.
The Offense needs to have a 2nd half like last week where they scored often but controlled the clock.

"To have a great life simply follow this rule:  Do not bring undo conflict into your life..."

Charlie Baker - OSU - 1986

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I actually think the way to play this PSU team, which has limited depth, is to run hurry up against them. Force their defense to be on the field for a lot of plays and put Hackenberg in a lot of drop back passing situations. The more plays are run, the more they will make mistakes and get tired.

Adam21's picture

In the secondary, I hope Coach Myers is a soothsayer and can see into the future regarding Roby and him having a breakout game this weekend.

Please tell me this was an autocorrect error?

Doc's picture

I'm worried about PSU's passing attack.  Hopefully Hackenburg gets rattled early and often.  I'm sure Vrabs will have the Dline good and pissed off.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

TatumRuled's picture

You know, I can't remember - besides, ironically, the 2006 championship game - the last time an Ohio State defense has been so heavily criticized.

"Hell, Woody didn't recruit me; he recruited my mother!" -Jack Tatum                       

geoffrsc's picture

I can't remember a time they were this porous.

Paulillo's picture

“Right now, I really haven’t had the opportunity to sit back and understand it,” Hackenberg told reporters last week. “My mind is really focused on Ohio State now. But being able to sit down and watch the game on replay on the Big Ten Network,

PSU's starting QB watches replays of their games on the Big Ten Network? Sounds like an exciting way for a budding campus celebrity to spend his time.

buckeyepastor's picture

I'm tired of every team we face having the performance of the year against us.   Cal has not looked against anyone as productive as they looked against us.  Wisconsin, though their run game was stymied, had their best passing performance of the year against us.  I know Abbrederis is good, but he wasn't the only one that did damage.   NW, until they suddenly and inexplicably stopped using Colter, played their best game of the season against us.  And now, the same can be said for Iowa's offense.   I know that being a top five team means we get everyone's best shot, but when we play teams that we are WAY better than in terms of personnel, their best should be met and dominated by our best.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

whobdis's picture

Have to agree with some of this. Fitz said after the game that's the best game they've played...Ferentz said they had their best first half of the season. I don't think our D has the same mentality as our O. Our O likes to strike quick and take the game to the opponent. Our D let's teams get a little relaxed and into a rythym. These are very young qb's and I think some early pressure would go a long way. I realize you may leave yourself open for a big score but I think that still hurts less than letting the guy have his way.

BuckeyeB9B82501's picture

It is a must that our D Line plays pissed off and puts pressure on PSUs QB. He is talented but if we get to him early and often that will get into his head. We need to hit him too. Keep making him pick himself up off the turf. And hit him hard. A good hard hit early on and that will definitely be in his head. The key to this game for our D is the DL play. If we hit him hard and put constant pressure on him early and often, the chips will fall in place for our D to have a big game. It all starts up front, on both sides of the ball, but for this game the DL is gona be the biggest key. Lets keep The Chase going, 1 game at a time. Time to go 8-0 , 20-0. GO BUCKS!!!!

Buckeye Dynasty starts in 2014 baby !!!!!! GO BUCKS !!!!!!!! O - H - I - O

Thajinn's picture

maybe JUST maybe the BIG is UNDERRATED..under hyped as compared to over hyped up ACC/SEC is this yr???? Iowa(Flordia) , NW(Gerog),WIS(LSU), and PSU(USCar) would all been Ranked in the polls this yr if they all played in the Overhyped SEC. And the ESpiN talking heads would be saying tOSU has it rough this yr playing all these ranked teams every weekend.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

The script we are expecting based on past performance is PSU will throw for a lot of yards and score points but the buckeye offense will be very efficient and rack up one or two more scores than PSU by the end of the game.  Would love to see a real dominance on both sides of the ball of course, but keep winning is the important thing.  Glad the game is in the shoe.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

iloveu2chris's picture

The B1G is pretty bad it is just that everyone gives OSU their very best shot everyone comes in wanting to knock them out. Even with the SEC love and all the haters barking how bad OSU is and how great fl state and others are really bama and to a less degree Oregon are the only other schools I can think of that induces the drive and excitement of playing the OSU other schools might get more respect from the media but it seems most teams would love the chance to try and knock off OSU because like it or not OSU is one of the biggest dogs in the yard year after year, and to earn national respect you have to beat the biggest bama, Oregon and OSU the last decade these are the big boys year in year out these are the ones every feels they need to beat to prove they belong at the top but one good thing is look at the records very few have the sack to beat them. And even fewer do it often

Oldschoolbuck's picture

I agree with you about everyone giving us their best shot. That's been the case since I was old enough to watch & care about tOSU football (50 years now!).
BTW, bro, punctuation is not a dirty word ;-)

Hovenaut's picture

Hope to see that pass rush back en masse Saturday night....have to put pressure on Hackenberg.

Entered the season thinking the secondary could enable the front four with tight coverage, I had it all wackbards.

There's still time for the defense to get things together, but I realize now it's going to be led by the guys up front.

andretolstoy's picture

I don't believe the Big Ten is as bad as some like to paint her. And, honestly, SEC football is pretty boring to me. I'm not a big fan of all the whooping and hollering, I don't like it when Buckeyes do it, I surely don't like it when the SEC does.
I haven't seen PSU play this year, but I hear the QB they have is a star. He may get some yards on us passing, but if we can get pressure I just don't think PSU can win. Not saying never, but it will be difficult.
Go Bucks!

pjtobin's picture

I would love to see 4 qts of total domination. It can be done. We have the talent. And if this team is anything like last years our d will be one of the top 10 in the month of November. I hope I'm just not wishful thinking. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

cal3713's picture

Not to disappoint you or anything, but we are currently ranked 15th in NCAA total defense for the year.  

Oldschoolbuck's picture

From the way many view things, I would have assumed we were 115th!

cinserious's picture

After playing against Iowa and Wisconsin's offensive lines, the Buckeyes likely wont face as tough a line (except maybe Michigan) all year. Historically, Iowa and Wisconsin hang their hats on recruiting and developing the best O-lines in the country. 'Bama and a couple top-tier SEC teams have comparable lines but you cant tell me FSU, Oregon, Mizzou or any other top-ten team has a line like that. Our defense is right on point and improving. When we get to the bowl game, our D-line will at least hold its own, if not dominate.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

BuckeyeFreak4844's picture

Michigans line is not tough maybe on paper they are but up until last week against the porous IU defense they were averaging about 2 yards per carry and most of that is probably Gardner scrambles.  Yes i know im probably exaggerating on yards per carry. 

Michigan Sucks!

buckskin's picture

We need to bring the house early and not let Hackenberg get into any kind of rhythm.  Mix up blitzes, stunts, and give him a ton of different looks.  This D-line is too talented to keep getting pushed around.  Let's give them a pounding and show the country what a dominating D looks like in primetime. 

ChazBuckeye's picture

Hackenberg will make mistakes in this upcoming game.   However, he will throw for at least 300 yards unless OSU defense improves it's game planning/schemes and fast.  
OSU's up-tempo offense won't keep PSU's offense off the field (I see a lot of things above about that).  That's my biggest issue with OSU's up-tempo offense is it gives the opposing offense more time to drain the clock (like Iowa did).  The defense has to make plays or turnovers in order for the up-tempo to be effective as it was in the second half vs Iowa.  
All I know is OSU better keep pushing the offensive accelerator through the floor boards.  OSU can't afford another close win and expect to be taken seriously in the BCS race (especially with PSU's losses, e.g. UCF and IU).  Leave no doubt Buckeyes!

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

shaggybuckeye's picture

I'm hoping after this game Hackenberg has his name forcibly changes to Sackenberg. Get in the backfield and EAT EM UP BOYS! A pick 6 or 2 and getting sacked 4 or more times would be a nice showing for the true frosh imo.