It only takes one look at the stat sheet to see how valuable Nick Bosa has been to Ohio State at the defensive end position this season.
In just 113 snaps in Ohio State’s first three games, Bosa recorded 14 total tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks (as well as a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown).
Ohio State’s five other scholarship defensive ends who have seen playing time this season – Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith, Jashon Cornell and Tyler Friday – have combined for just 13 total tackles, three tackles for loss and three sacks on 325 snaps.
While all six of those defensive ends were highly recruited players with plenty of talent, Bosa – arguably the best defensive end in all of college football – is the clear-cut star of the group.
However, the Buckeyes will be without Bosa on Saturday against Tulane, and likely for several more games – including one of their biggest games of the season at Penn State next Saturday – after Bosa underwent surgery for a core muscle injury on Thursday.
No timetable has been set for Bosa’s recovery, but after undergoing surgery for an injury that typically requires a recovery of at least four to six weeks, it’s likely that the Buckeyes will have to play without their star defensive end for a good chunk of the regular season.
“We hope to get him back as soon as possible,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Thursday on his radio show. “We’re not sure when that will be.”
Until Bosa is able to return, Ohio State will be counting on the rest of its defensive ends to step up and fill the void.
It would be unrealistic to expect any one Ohio State defensive end – or even a combination of defensive ends – to be able to fully replicate what Bosa brings to the defense. An All-American in 2017 who had taken his game to an even higher level to open the 2018 season, Bosa is a dominant player with almost no flaws in a game. His big numbers in Ohio State’s first three games, in which he essentially played a half in each one, came all the while he was routinely drawing double-team blocks from opposing offenses in an effort to slow him down.
That said, the Buckeyes’ defensive ends who will be taking the field on Saturday are confident in their ability to get the job done, as well.
“Nick Bosa is Nick Bosa,” Cooper said Wednesday. “He’s always going to be Nick Bosa. But I feel like our motto as a defensive line has always been next man up. And guys just have to step up now, and I feel like the whole entire defensive line is going to step up, and I feel like we’re not going to miss a beat.”
With Bosa on one side of the defensive line, Cooper and Young started the season mostly rotating in and out of the lineup with one another. Now, Cooper and Young will be starting opposite each other, which should lead to more playing time for both – maybe not this Saturday, when the Buckeyes are expected to blow out Tulane, but likely next Saturday in Happy Valley.
Cooper said he and Young are embracing the opportunity to step up and become the leaders of the defensive end rotation.
“Me and Chase, I feel like we both have a clear understanding of what time it is and what we need to do,” Cooper said. “Me and Chase are really close, and we’re going to go out there and play just as hard.”
* Unofficial snap counts from our Snap Counts series
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano acknowledged Wednesday that Cooper and Young are both likely to play more snaps while Bosa is sidelined, but he also expects some of the other defensive ends – with the leadership of defensive line coach Larry Johnson – to take advantage of the opportunity to play more, too.
“Coach J always has a way of winding somebody in there, and they rise to the occasion,” Schiano said. “I think some of the young guys will step up.”
Meyer echoed that sentiment on Thursday, highlighting Smith and Friday – both true freshmen – as defensive ends who are pushing for more playing time.
“They’re just great kids from great people and they’re working their tails off and now they’re in it,” Meyer said of Smith and Friday.
“Our motto as a defensive line has always been next man up. And guys just have to step up now, and I feel like the whole entire defensive line is going to step up, and I feel like we’re not going to miss a beat.”– Jonathon Cooper
Of course, it isn’t just the other defensive ends who will have to step up in Bosa’s absence, but the rest of the players around them on Ohio State’s defense, as well. Meyer singled out defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones – who has also gotten off to a spectacular start this season, recording 11 total tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown against TCU – as a player who should help the Buckeyes overcome Bosa’s injury.
“Dre’Mont’s a guy that’s just playing so well right now, and so he gives us a little flexibility as well,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes will miss having No. 97 on the field – since the start of the 2013 season, Ohio State has only played one game in which either Nick or his older brother Joey was not on the field – but they expect the junior defensive end, one of seven team captains, to continue to provide leadership even while he’s sidelined.
“He’s always going to be a leader. Captain of this football team. A leader of the defensive line,” Cooper said of Bosa. “He’s always going to be our brother; whether he’s on the field or not, it doesn’t make a difference. And he’s always going to be teaching, we always learn from him whether he’s on the field or not, too.”
And even though they won’t have Bosa on the field for a while, Ohio State’s expectations – to have the best defensive line in the country, and to continue to win every game they play – aren’t going to change without him.
“Coach Johnson makes it very clear what kind of production we need out of our defensive line,” Schiano said.