On an exceptionally cold day in Minneapolis, Ohio State’s run defense found itself at a crossroads. Sensing this, senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett decided he’d best do something about it.
As Minnesota senior running back David Cobb, who finished the afternoon with 145 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, gutted the Buckeyes time and again, Bennett seethed at the sight of a game that, at least statistically, should’ve been a blowout before halftime.
“I didn’t like the look on guys faces after they’d see it run up the middle. I played off a lot of anger, just a lot of trying to be intense and adrenaline and stuff like that and I just didn’t see it coming from the rest of the defense,” he said after the game.
During intermission in the locker room, he exploded.
“Mike Bennett took it very personal, he said some words that I'm not going to say right now,” senior cornerback Doran Grant said.
Here’s a diluted version of that message.
“I let them know that I wasn’t happy about it and I felt like there was a lot of apathy like, ‘Oh, we only let them get 14 points’ and I felt like we shouldn’t have let them get any,” Bennett said.
“So, it was mostly just a call to action. We can’t be OK with that, you can’t let them run up the ball, we’re better than that. We need to form a wall and not let their running back get through. And I don’t know many times in the second half that he did.”
Stopping the run has always been an emphasis, but there’s different level of urgency as Ohio State makes its final playoff push.
The Buckeyes will face Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, who’s rushed for a ridiculous 1,678 yards and 12 touchdowns, Saturday before a potential match against Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who broke the FBS single-game record with 408 yards last weekend, in the Big Ten title game.
The challenges ahead are obvious. Finding a way to stuff Cobb was the first step toward shoring up a defense that has to play lights out against the Hoosiers and Michigan with an all-seeing selection committee watching Ohio State’s every move.
“This was the biggest call to action we’ve had in a while,” Bennett said. “Just completely was not happy about the first-half performance and I think guys really responded to what I said and rallied around it and the other leaders stepped up and the young guys took it seriously and got a chip on their shoulder.”
Others felt similarly.
“He was getting after it but we felt the same way,” sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa said. “We just didn't say anything.”
Bennett, who wields a certain respect on an Ohio State team that can clinch a return to the Big Ten title game with a win this weekend, did. He had to.
"He’s an emotional guy, he’s a leader speaking, ‘Hey, let’s get this done,'" defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. "I think in the second half, they went out and played that way."
Added Bennett: “I don’t think we have a lack of leadership on the defense by any means, but I feel like I need to be the voice and be the energy so when young guys are kind of feeling like, well they just got a big play, they can look at me be like all right we’re ready to go.”