Darryl Baldwin came to Ohio State to sack quarterbacks. Noah Brown came to catch passes.
But in Saturday night's 55-14 victory over the University of Illinois, both made their impact felt by making a pair of tremendous blocks that sprang freshman running back, Curtis Samuel 23 yards for a touchdown.
Baldwin arrived in Columbus five years ago as a coveted defensive end prospect, but until this fall had spent his career as a backup, rarely seeing meaningful playing time. After switching to the opposite side of the ball upon the arrival of Urban Meyer and offensive line coach, Ed Warriner, the senior from Solon earned the starting right tackle job in his final spring practice.
Since taking that first team spot, Baldwin has quietly emerged as one of the most consistent players on a dominant unit that ranks in the top 15 nationally in scoring offense, rushing offense, and total offense. With much of the attention going to his counterpart on the left side, Taylor Decker, Baldwin's contributions have often gone unnoticed by fans and media alike.
Noah Brown, however, created quite a bit of buzz this summer, when the true freshman wide receiver showed up to camp weighing 244 lbs. The former West Jersey offensive player of the year used his size to bully Darron Lee in a training camp drill, tossing the play-making linebacker to the ground with seemingly little effort.
With such size and strength, Brown enticed OSU fans by publicly stating he aspired to model his game after former Buckeye great, David Boston. Yet midway through his first season, Brown was still looking to make an impact on the field in Columbus.
But after an interception from Lee set the Buckeyes up on the Illini side of the field for their first possession, Brown joined Baldwin on the first unit in the first meaningful minutes of his career. It only took three plays for the pair to make their presence felt.
As the Buckeyes faced second-and-ten, Brown was split out wide to the right before coming in short motion back toward the formation. The Illini secondary had called for man-to-man coverage, meaning cornerback V'Angelo Bentley would follow Brown as he made his way back toward the middle of the field.
But Brown wasn't going in motion to run a pass pattern. Instead, Meyer and the OSU coaches looked to use his size to take out Illinois' middle linebacker and leading tackler, Mason Monheim on a crack-back block.
This block would be the first that created a seal on the outside as part of a slight variation of the "Buck Sweep" concept that the Buckeyes were running on the play. This classic concept is one of the most famous in football, associated most often with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers teams of the 1950's and 60's.
After taking a hiatus from major college and pro football for a couple decades, the concept was brought back to life by current Auburn coach, Gus Malzahn. Today, nearly every spread-to-run team has it in their playbook, although often used only as a complimentary piece of the game plan.
To keep the Illini from potentially over-playing the sweep in the future, OSU offensive coordinator, Tom Herman has added a couple wrinkles to the play on the back side.
First, the defensive end to the wide side of the field is left unblocked by left tackle, Taylor Decker, who instead goes upfield to block the outside linebacker. Quarterback J.T. Barrett reads this end, waiting to see if he chases Samuel on the potential handoff. If he did so, Barrett would simply fake the handoff and take off around that end.
The other potential wrinkle given to Barrett was Dontre Wilson running a bubble screen to the far side. If the defender over him reacts to the run action inside, Barrett could pull the ball out and make a quick, easy throw to a playmaker in space.
One or both of these wrinkles may have just been window dressing to give the Michigan State coaches one more thing to practice for this week, but it shows the complexity at which the Buckeye offense currently operates.
But in this instance, Barrett correctly reads that the sweep is wide open. As Brown comes inside to block an unsuspecting linebacker, OSU center, Jacoby Boren (#50) and Baldwin (#76) pull to the outside, looking to lead the way for the running back, Samuel.
At the same time Brown is lowering the boom on Monheim, Baldwin flashes the athleticism that made him such a sought after recruit on the defensive line, getting outside to the painted numbers on the field before any Illini defenders recognize where he's going.
On a typical Buck Sweep, the first pulling lineman (in this case, Baldwin) will look to 'kick out' the defender furthest to the outside. But with the cornerback, Bentley following Brown inside, there is no defender there. Baldwin quickly recognizes this, and immediately shifts his eyes to find the first defender coming from the inside, looking to create a wall for Samuel to run behind.
The only Illini defender in the area is the safety, Taylor Barton (#3) who attempts to fill the void to that side of the field. Often times, blocking a defensive back in space can be very difficult for an offensive linemen, akin to making an open field tackle against a shift runner. But Baldwin does an excellent job of staying balanced and reading Barton's movements.
Not only does the big man make contact with the safety, but Baldwin is able to fully engage with Barton, keeping him from scraping off the block and potentially making a tackle.
The result is a wide open lane through which Samuel easily runs, never coming close to an Illinois defender.
The broadcast did a great job of highlighting Baldwin's contributions to the play, and here's another look at Brown's vicious crack-back:
While their names didn't make it in the box score, Baldwin and Brown deserve a ton of credit for their efforts on this play. Perhaps as a reward for his contributions as a blocker, Brown recorded his first reception as a Buckeye later that night, something Meyer has been known to do in the past.
Though he probably won't be getting the ball anytime soon, Baldwin was recognized by the announcers on TV and given a nice close up when on the bench, showing Ohio State fans the face of a guy who deserves a ton of credit for the work he's put in over the past few years. Making the switch from one side of the ball to the other is no easy feat, but Baldwin showed that he has not only made the full transition, but has become an important contributor for this team.
Luckily for Curtis Samuel and the rest of the OSU ball-carriers though, it's not the way he originally envisioned.