While Ohio State's defense has taken a lot of criticism this year for how it has given up yardage, a better aspect of the defense has been ignored: creating takeaways.
Fumbles and interceptions can turn games, and Ohio State was very good at turning games; the Buckeyes have a +8 turnover margin before the Orange Bowl, good for 29th in the country. In recognition of the defense's contribution to ball security, here are the defense's eleven best takeaways of the 2013 season, with some lovely GIF flavor.
11. THE OPENER
Where better to start off than the first takeaway of the season? In the opener against Buffalo, Ohio State got off to a fast start and was able to substitute some backups, leading to Ron Tanner’s interception of Joe Licata. It wasn’t all good for the Buckeyes, as Buffalo would make the game uncomfortably close in the second half. Tanner’s pick was a strong start.
10. THE CONTORTIONIST
Ah, the perils of freshman quarterbacks.
It is easy to forget that Penn State’s offense was pretty decent in the first half, it just had trouble with finishing. Christian Hackenberg threw a pick in the end zone with OSU up 7-0. On his next offensive snap, Spence blasted him for a sack and forced fumble. On the play after that, Hackenberg tried to go deep and underthrew it– a big mistake. C.J. Barnett twisted his body to make the interception, and that was Penn State’s last chance to make it a game. Instead, Ohio State gave the Nittany Lions their worst beating in 114 years.
9. DORAN'S THE MAN, PART ONE
After a shaky showing against Buffalo the week before, the defense wanted to rebound against San Diego State. Barely three minutes into the game, Doran Grant set the tone by intercepting Adam Dingwell at the Ohio State 45, the first of his career. Armani Reeves would also collect his first career interception as Ohio State rolled San Diego State, 42-7.
8. DORAN'S THE MAN, PART TWO
Going into the Purdue game, Ohio State was going to do one of two things: destroy Purdue like they should by logic, or succumb to the inexplicable nailbiters recent Purdue games have been. For once, logic prevailed. Doran Grant’s pick-six came on the second play of the game, and Ohio State beat Purdue 56-0, matching the worst margin of defeat in Boilermakers history.
Holding onto a 34-30 lead at then-ranked Northwestern, the defense had to withstand one final play. The Wildcats, starting at their own 8-yard line, ran the usual “pass for 15 yards and lateral like crazy” play. Bradley Roby would have none of it. Roby's hit made the receiver's lateral fly into the endzone, where Joey Bosa fell on it to give Ohio State a 40-30 win. The game crushed Northwestern; the Wildcats lost their next six and finished 5-7.
6. TURNING THE TIDE
Bradley Roby had an up-and-down year, surprising for a preseason Thorpe Award favorite. This game was an example, as he was burned by Jared Abbrederis all night long, but he came up with a big interception in the third quarter when Adolphus Washington’s pressure jarred Joel Stave’s arm just enough to send his pass wobbling into Roby’s hands. The interception would lead to a Philly Brown touchdown reception to give Ohio State a 31-14 lead, handy when Ohio State won the game by a touchdown.
5. HEAT-SEEKING MISSILE
Ryan Shazier is to the Tomahawk missile as slow quarterbacks are to zeppelins, so when Luke Fickell called a blindside blitz against Cal in the first quarter it was a golden opportunity. Shazier creamed Jared Goff (after being held) as he drew the ball back and forced a fumble that Michael Bennett recovered. Ohio State was up 14-0 at the time, and the Buckeyes extended the first quarter lead even further. Considering all his other tackles, maybe Ryan Shazier has a pathological hatred of ball-carriers.
4. GOING STREAKING
Illinois's Nathan Scheelhaase presaged this one by underthrowing a deep ball into triple coverage for a C.J. Barnett interception. Later in the first quarter, Scheelhaase forced a ball into double coverage that Armani Reeves tipped, leaving Bradley Roby to catch the ricochet and streak 63 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown. The defense would regress from its first quarter form and allow four offensive touchdowns before Carlos Hyde resealed the game.
3. THE HI/LO COMBO
Apart from fourteen interceptions, Ohio State produced eight fumbles on the year. This takeaway came in the second quarter as Ohio State was wrapping up the win with a 28-0 lead. Noah Spence went low, Michael Bennett went high, and SDSU’s quarterback went “ow.” The victory was all but assured with Rod Smith’s touchdown on the next series.
2. GETTING JUMPY
Here’s the other takeaway from the Northwestern game. Northwestern had demolished some earlier opportunities, and Ohio State was desperate for a spark. Trailing 23-20 with 12:26 left in the game, Ohio State needed and received a game-changing play from Doran Grant. Grant read an out route perfectly, cutting underneath Rashad Lawrence to intercept Trevor Siemian's pass. This might be the best read of the year, given the pressure and the tight window of opportunity to intercept the ball. Grant’s interception put Ohio State at Northwestern’s doorstep, and the Buckeyes took a 27-23 lead to restore confidence.
1. THE CLINCHER
This is the big one. Ironically, the top takeaway of the year doesn't count as a takeaway in the official statistics.
Few need to be reminded of the circumstances, but for posterity: Ohio State’s defense had been gashed all day by Michigan for a record 603 yards, Michigan had just scored to make it 42-41 with only seconds remaining, and the Wolverines decided to go for the win rather than risk overtime with an injured quarterback. Following a timeout, the defense was certain about what play Michigan would run, and Tyvis Powell was in perfect position:
At the time of greatest need, Powell intercepted the pass to preserve the undefeated season and national championship hopes; more importantly, it beat Michigan. Powell’s interception will count in the record books only as a failed two point conversion, but his grace under pressure was the pinnacle of Ohio State’s season.