Adolphus Washington receives the signal from the sideline and instantly becomes aware of the fact he is going to have his hands full on the very next play. The Ohio State coaching staff has signaled for its ‘Rushmen’ package and Washington knows he has to move positions from his normal three-technique spot on the defensive line to noseguard.
Sam Hubbard comes into the game to replace the starting noseguard. Joey Bosa moves from his normal defensive end position to the three-technique and, as a result, Washington slides down to noseguard — the position he played much of last year alongside Michael Bennett.
The package is designed to get the Buckeyes’ four-best pass rushers — Bosa, Hubbard, Washington and Tyquan Lewis — on the field at the same time in obvious passing situations for opponents.
“To be honest, I don’t [like it], because I’ve gotta play noseguard and I just get double teamed the whole time,” Washington joked following the Buckeyes’ practice Wednesday night. “I’ll do it for a couple plays a game, it’s all good with me.”
Washington doesn’t mind the brief position swap because the third-down package has been extremely effective so far this season for Ohio State. It allows the Buckeyes to create mismatches up front and really creates havoc for opposing offensive lines.
“I guess it speaks for itself,” Washington said.
"Block Joey Bosa when he lines up inside," they said. "It will be fun," they said. pic.twitter.com/e4gglI6DJm— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) October 18, 2015
This wasn't something that was always in the plans, though. Ohio State did not work on the ‘Rushmen’ package at all in fall camp. In fact, the Buckeyes didn’t even install it until after their 42-24 win over Virginia Tech in the season opener.
Bosa was suspended for that game; Hubbard started in his place. The redshirt freshman, playing in the first game of his career, recorded four tackles (1.5 for loss) and a sack in place of Ohio State’s All-American. Buckeyes’ defensive line coach Larry Johnson came up with the idea of the ‘Rushmen’ package after watching Hubbard’s performance that night knowing Bosa would be returning the following week.
“Getting our best pass rushers out there, it’s fun to fly after the quarterback,” Bosa said. “Pretty much have all four of us getting there at the same time.”
One might think having three defensive ends and one converted one on the line that Ohio State would be susceptible to the run even though the package is usually used strictly on passing downs. When Bosa and Washington are playing inside, though, that's not really the case.
"We’ve still got enough weight in there, enough meat in there to still play the run,” Washington said.
Each has had their chance in the spotlight so far this season.
Perhaps the least-heralded of the four, Lewis, a redshirt sophomore, leads Ohio State in sacks this year with 5.5 and is second on the team with nine tackles for loss. Bosa has a team-high 11 tackles for loss and is tied with Hubbard for second on the Buckeyes with 3.5 sacks. Washington, the lone ‘Rushmen’ who plays strictly on the inside, has three sacks of his own on the season.
“When the play comes your way, you just have to make it,” Lewis said recently. “You got a one-on-one, you want to win every time. If you feel like you’re the best in the country, you’ve gotta win every time.”
More often than not, Ohio State has been winning those individual battles, too, especially on third down when it trots its ‘Rushmen’ package out onto the field.
It has created a problem opposing offenses have yet to figure out.
“We like that. I think guys get energy just seeing the package on the field,” said Joshua Perry, who has a first-person view of the ‘Rushmen’ package from his outside linebacker position. “We’ve got guys up there with some juice that can get after the quarterback and also just great football players in case [the offense] does anything else. We like that, it allows us to have a little change up, something that people need to be aware of and a really good way to get guys on the field.”
Added Hubbard: “I think it gives the offensive linemen some nightmares.”