After a dreadful performance against Iowa, the Ohio State defense flat out dominated the Michigan State offense. From beginning to end, the Spartans were unable to do much of anything. The outstanding performance by the Buckeyes’ defense was due to their mental preparation that they clearly did not have last week in Iowa City.
One of the more impressive feats of this dominant performance is that the Buckeyes’ defense was without starting outside linebackers Jerome Baker and Dante Booker. Despite the loss, the linebacking unit looked arguably the best it had all year with Tuf Borland playing inside while Malik Harrison and Chris Worley played on the outside. Harrison has been Booker’s backup all season while Worley steps back into the position he played last year. This unit played with a mental edge after arguably their worst performance of the year against Iowa.
Tuf Borland stepped in for Worley after his injury in week three and as a result of his experience he played a key role in shutting down the Spartans run game. He has always been a physical and instinctive player. He may have solidified a starting spot after this solid performance.
Malik Harrison mainly played in the Buckeye’s nickel defense in previous weeks. He had his share of both solid plays and mistakes as a rotational player but played well on Saturday as a starter. It is a well-known fact that he possesses the great athletic ability and a large frame standing at 6’3” and weighing in at 235 pounds. The question was whether or not he could utilize his talent and become a true three-down linebacker. On Saturday, he proved that he has the mental the capabilities and the physicality required to play the position and he will only continue to get better.
That leaves the question of who will start at which linebacker position once the unit is at full health. Baker has been cleared to play against Illinois this Saturday and will most likely slide back in at the SAM position. As for Booker, he is still questionable. Meyer has said that he will use this week of practice to determine whether Borland stays inside and Worley shifts back outside. For now, we can only speculate. The most likely scenario is that Baker and Worley will play on the outside while Borland plays inside full time. As for Booker and Harrison in this scenario, they will most likely rotate in on the outside. Going forward, this linebacking corps will no longer be the weak link that it was once thought of. Elite play from any of the possible starters can propel the defense to an elite level of play.
As for the defensive line, they allowed the linebackers to make plays in the run game by controlling the line of scrimmage. From start to finish, the Spartans’ offensive line was not able to have any success in the run game. This was due to the fact they could not get the push they needed.
On the interior, Dre’Mont Jones was as disruptive as ever. With his incredible first step, length and understanding of the Spartans’ blocking schemes, he blew up several running plays before they even had a chance to develop. Although he was ejected just before halftime, the damage was already done. Also, undersized nose tackle Robert Landers utilized his speed off the ball to penetrate and disrupts a few plays. As for the rest of the line, all four of the “starting” defensive ends, Hubbard, Bosa, Holmes and Lewis were disruptive on every down. Even true Freshman Chase young was able to get a couple sacks in the limited time he was in. Going forward, the defensive line will continue to be the strength of the defense.
The Buckeyes’ secondary also had arguably their best performance of the season, limiting the Spartans’ quarterback Brian Lewerke to just 131 yards passing. The Spartans receiving corps was not the most athletic or dynamic unit the Buckeyes have seen this year. However, the Spartans’ Felton Davis III was still coming off a 181-yard dominant performance against Penn State and did not have a single catch against the Buckeyes. In the Penn State game, the Spartans’ receiving corps dominated and ultimately elevated their team to a close win. This was obviously not the case at all against the Buckeyes as the struggled to separate from Man coverage.
The Buckeyes’ defensive game plan from a coverage standpoint was to remain in a two-shell quarters defense on early downs and then shift to a single high man defense in passing situations. On early downs, the Spartans’ obviously found little success running so they were placed in a lot of unfavorable situations. In obvious passing situations, a combination of the pass rush and a cover one spy defense left Spartans’ quarterback Lewerke with no options.
Denzel ward did not surprise anyone with his outstanding play, making man to man coverage on the outside look easy. Damon Arnette may have had the best game of his career. After finishing the game with an interception, with another was taken away by an unrelated penalty. He is starting to show signs of taking the next step in his game. He did leave the game with an injury but is probable for this week.
The Safety duo of Jordan Fuller and Damon Webb communicated well this week after failing to do so against Iowa. Webb showed off a little range after intercepting Lewerke as a single high safety in a cover one defense. Fuller once again showed that he is a solid player at safety and can be counted on to be slot defender in man coverage. The play of Webb and Fuller is key to the success of the secondary and if they continue to cause turnovers it could change the dynamic of the defense.
Coming into the game against Illinois, this defense is riding high again and they look like who we thought they were after the Penn State Game. There is no reason the Buckeyes’ defense should not dominate against Illinois this weekend and take the momentum into rivalry week. This defense is played at a Big Ten championship level this past weekend and with continued improvements, it can become the elite unit.