As we look back at the completed Chase, one of the things that sticks out about the 2014 National Champion Buckeyes (and doesn’t that feel good to say?) is that the defense improved by leaps and bounds, especially as the season wore on.
The Silver Bullets made a comeback in the postseason this year and, along the way, they made a whole lot of really great plays. How many great plays? Too many to list. Instead, let’s narrow it down and take a look at the best of the best defensive plays from this season.
These plays were crowd sourced from the 11W team, and since there was some discussion about one or two choices, these go all the way to 11. The plays were chosen in consideration of multiple factors, including timeliness, importance, and 'wow' factor.
Let’s get started!
11. Vonn Bell Steals from Devin Gardner
On just the second play of The Game, the sophomore safety picked off a pass intended for Amara Darboh. Pressure from Joey Bosa forced Gardner to throw off balance, and Bell was there.
Six plays after Bell’s interception, the Buckeyes were ahead 7-0, courtesy of a six-yard touchdown pass from J.T. Barrett to Nick Vannett. Those seven points off the turnover were pretty important, considering the game was 21-21 deep into the third quarter.
10. Eli Apple Denies Sparty
The toughest regular season game on the schedule was a night date with the Spartans in East Lansing. The Buckeyes fell behind early but came back to take the lead, playing their most complete game of the season to that point.
Nursing a 35-24 lead, the Buckeyes allowed Michigan State to drive to their 35. The Spartans faced a fourth-and-five situation late in the third quarter. Rather than try a long field goal, Mark Dantonio left his offense on the field. The Spartans tried a tricky reverse, but Eli Apple wasn’t fooled. He dropped Nick Hill for a one-yard loss to end the scoring threat as well as the third quarter. Ohio State went on to win 49-37.
9. Bosa Crushes Kiel
The Buckeyes had just taken a 14-7 lead over the Cincinnati Bearcats and Kyle Clinton’s kickoff sailed into the end zone for a touchback. On the first snap of the ensuing drive, heralded quarterback Gunner Kiel dropped back to pass. That’s when Joey Bosa came free and blasted Kiel. The football squirted out of Kiel’s hands, back toward the Bearcats’ end zone, where offensive lineman Eric Lefeld swept it over the end line for a safety.
I was there and I kind of thought Kiel might be dead. Thankfully, he didn’t perish in the Shoe.
The play provided momentum for the Buckeyes, who went on to take a 30-7 lead. It turned out to be an important run for Ohio State, as Cincy stormed back to pull within five in the third quarter. Sean Nuernberger’s 42-yard field goal stopped the bleeding and the Buckeyes went on to cruise from there, winning 50-28.
8. Bell's Sugar Bowl Theft
Clinging to a six-point lead in the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State’s Cameron Johnston committed a rare punt shank out of his own end zone with less than 10 minutes to play. Alabama took over at the Buckeye 23 and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin went for a kill shot.
Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims threw for the end zone but Bell stepped in front of the intended receiver just outside the end zone, intercepting Sims and ending Bama’s immediate threat. After an exchange of punts, Ezekiel Elliott broke an 85-yard touchdown to seal the deal, sending Ohio State to Dallas.
7. Bosa Strips Gardner, Lee Scores
If Bell’s interception set the tone early, Darron Lee’s scoop and score on Bosa’s strip sack of Gardner in the fourth quarter put the final nail in Michigan’s coffin. With Lee blitzing, Bosa sacked Gardner, knocking the ball free.
Lee was in position to grab it and race 33 yards to the end zone, with Bell providing the final block. The score put Ohio State up 42-21 with just under four minutes to play. Brady Hoke hasn't been seen since.
6. Oregon Denied!
Ohio State led the National Championship Game, 14-7, early in the second quarter, when Alex Balducci recovered a Cardale Jones fumble at the Oregon 41. The Ducks drove right down the field, setting up inside the OSU 10. Oregon’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Marcus Mariota, got them to the 3-yard line, where the Ducks faced fourth and goal.
True to their nature, the Ducks stayed aggressive and went for it. Mariota gave to running back Thomas Tyner up the middle on fourth down, but the Buckeyes swarmed him at the 1-yard line and kept him out of the end zone. Tyvis Powell came crashing in from his safety spot and combined with Adolphus Washington (and others) to hold Oregon and force a crucial turnover on downs.
5. Lee Sinks Navy
The Buckeyes were struggling on opening day, trailing 7-6 early in the third quarter. The Midshipmen crossed midfield with their first possession of the second half, looking to extend their lead. The Silver Bullets had other ideas.
On an option play, Bosa forced an early pitch from Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, which went awry. Lee was in place to take out the pitch man, but instead found the loose football, scooped it up, and ran 61 yards for Ohio State’s first touchdown of the season.
It was an important score, as Navy found the end zone on its next possession. After that, the Buckeyes settled down on both sides of the ball and took control of the game. It was the first step of The Chase.
4. Bennett Blasts Gordon, Bosa Scoops and Scores
File this one more under “wow factor” than “game changer.” Ohio State was already well on its way to pummeling Wisconsin late in the first half of the Big Ten Championship Game. Trailing 31-0, the Badgers took over the ball at their own 5-yard line after a 58-yard Johnston punt that quickened Jim Tressel’s pulse.
Four plays later, Joel Stave handed the ball to Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon. Michael Bennett met him in the hole and blasted him, punching the ball free in the process. Bosa scooped it up at the 4-yard line and scored to cap a 38-0 first half.
3. Apple's Heads-Up Play Forces Field Goal
The Buckeyes led the Ducks midway through the third quarter, 21-17, but the wheels had started to come off. Oregon hit a big 70-yard pass play to pull within four points after a Jones pass came off Jalin Marshall's hands for an interception. On the next possession, Cardale scrambled right and the ball slipped out of his hands, putting the Ducks in business at the OSU 23.
A few plays later, Mariota faced a third-and-four at the Buckeye 6-yard line, with a chance to take the lead. Mariota found tight end Evan Baylis in the back of the end zone and, for a split second, it appeared the Ducks had taken the lead.
But before Baylis landed, Eli Apple shoved him over the back line, forcing an incompletion. Oregon settled for a 23-yard field goal to pull within 21-20, and never scored again. Apple’s heady play kept the Buckeyes from falling behind and staved off the Ducks’ run.
2. Bosa Invents the Walk-Off Sack
What a way to end a game. Ohio State led by a touchdown in the second overtime of a tougher-than-expected game at Penn State. The Nittany Lions faced a fourth down and six to go at the OSU 20. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg dropped back to pass. He never got a chance.
Bosa lined up over the left guard, who inexplicably let him go at the snap. No lineman stepped into the gap and only junior running back Akeel Lynch stood between Bosa and the Penn State quarterback. Lynch set himself for a collision and Bosa made contact. Then he used the running back as a weapon to drop Hackenberg for an eight-yard sack, ending the game.
1. Miller Trolls Tide
The Buckeyes led Alabama, 27-21, on a long Cardale Jones pass to Devin Smith in the third quarter of the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide pinned Ohio State at its own 5-yard line on the next series, but Jones moved the team out to the 39 before the Buckeye drive stalled. Johnston stepped up and boomed a kick to Alabama’s 1-yard line.
But the Tide started to roll, with back-to-back nice runs for first downs, including a 21-yarder by Derrick Henry. On the next set of downs, the defense forced a third-and-7 situation. Sims dropped back, looking for Heisman finalist Amari Cooper. Instead, he found defensive end Steve Miller, who had dropped into coverage on a zone blitz. Miller showed off his speed after the interception, with a 41-yard return for a touchdown, pushing the lead to 34-21.
The pick-six was a huge hit for Sims’ confidence and it forced Bama to be more one-dimensional in its play calling, trailing by two scores in the second half.
And there you have it—the best of the best defensive plays by the Buckeye defense this season. And remember, almost all of the players listed within this countdown are back in 2015.