The first half of the Wisconsin game was the first time all season that Ohio State looked like they had an inexperienced defense. The Badgers’ offense isn’t built around speed, yet they managed to get the edge at will during a first half that saw them put up 16 points — well above the average of 10.8 points that the Buckeyes allowed through the first five weeks of the season.
Despite the slow start, the Buckeyes managed to leave Camp Randall Stadium with their perfect season intact. A demoralizing pass rush, combined with suffocating coverage on the outside, proved to be too much for the Badgers to overcome. The defense played far from great, but as Urban Meyer said after the game: a lot of good teams don’t play great at Camp Randall. Let’s take a look at some of the better moment’s from Ohio State’s latest big win on the road:
Gareon Conley is Ohio State’s latest lock-down corner
Conley has emerged this season as one of the country’s best cornerbacks. His combination of length and ball skills gives him the ability to not only blanket any receiver across from him, but also to make plays when opposing quarterbacks try to test him.
Conley managed to bait Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook into an interception during the third quarter as Ohio State was beginning to mount its comeback:
The Badgers managed to get Ohio State’s linebackers to bite on the play-action and Hornibrook had a receiver break open across the middle of the field. He displayed nice touch on his passes all night, but this touch eventually got him in trouble as Conley was able to bait him into throwing to the wrong spot. Just as it appears that Hornibrook had perfectly led his receiver, Conley comes out of nowhere to snag the pass.
A lot of cornerbacks can do a reasonably good job at taking care of their assignment and limiting big plays, but it takes a special player to have the confidence to leave a receiver open before closing in to create a turnover. This is the skill that Conley has brought to the team more and more as he’s matured as a playmaker, and it’ll likely be what makes him one of the first 32 players off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Malik Hooker might be Ohio State’s best overall defensive player
Hooker has had better games in terms of creating turnovers, but last Saturday was his finest performance yet in making crucial tackles. Overall, he racked up six tackles, but none were bigger than this stop during Wisconsin’s final drive of regulation:
The Buckeyes are just rushing their four defensive linemen here and have their cornerbacks in man coverage. This leaves Hooker to patrol his half of the field with his only real responsibility being to take away any big play threats. Wisconsin slot receiver No. 11 Jazz Peavy had a big day on the ground and through the air. The Badgers hoped to get him the ball here with some room to run on a crossing pattern:
Hooker drops about five yards at the snap, but plants his foot in the turf and drives up the field as he reads the quarterbacks eyes and anticipates the route. It’s this type of vision that has allowed Hooker to intercept four passes in six games this season, but here this vision allows him to put himself in the best position possible to make a play on the ball carrier.
Peavy is able to catch the pass, but Hooker is already in hot pursuit. Most players with eight yards of separation between them and the ball carrier would choose to break down and ensure they make the open-field tackle, but Hooker isn’t most players:
Hooker manages to cover those eight yards in the time that Peavy was able to turn his head upfield. This was as far as he got, as Hooker took out Peavy’s legs with an excellent open field tackle. Three plays later, the Badgers were forced to punt and the game went to overtime. The turnovers that Hooker has created this season are great, but it’s these types of plays that demonstrate his elite instincts and speed that make him one of college football’s best safeties.
Jalyn Holmes said enough is enough
Holmes was in the Badgers’ backfield all night and especially when it mattered most. Ohio State didn’t blitz on the most important play of the game, choosing instead to trust their cornerbacks in man coverage while allowing their linebackers to take away any underneath routes over the middle. A brief hesitation by Hornibrook was all Holmes need to rush straight through Wisconsin’s overmatched offensive line and win the game:
Joey Bosa’s walk-off sack against Penn State in 2014 was rightfully a defining moment of the season, but Holmes’ own walk-off sack should not be ignored considering it came against a much better team and didn’t result from a blown blocking assignment. There have been a lot of big plays in Ohio State’s six consecutive wins, but Holmes’ sack is at the top. What a game, what a sack, what a win.
The final: 30-23 Ohio State
Defensive player of the game: Jalyn Holmes (two TFLs, walk-off sack)
Defensive play of the game: Jalyn Holmes walk-off sack
Next Victim: Penn State. See you all next week.