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Ohio State’s Rushmen are creating havoc for opposing offenses

On obvious passing downs, the Buckeyes bring the heat.

Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

“It’s a party. You know, party to the quarterback. Whoever gets there first, gets there first. And then we celebrate when we get there.”

Ohio State defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes via Austin Ward, ESPN.com

Wisconsin fans probably thought it was rude for Ohio State’s defensive line to have a party at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night, but that’s just what the “Rushmen” did at the end of the game. The Buckeyes secured a hard-fought overtime victory against the Badgers with a sack of Alex Hornibrook on the final play of the game. Tyquan Lewis was credited with the game-winning sack, but there was a couple other “Rushmen” in the vicinity, bearing down on Hornibrook.

On obvious passing downs, Lewis and Sam Hubbard line up on the end of the defensive line, while Holmes and Nick Bosa are utilized on the inside of the line. The combination of speed and power that the “Rushmen” package provides makes it hard for the offensive to figure out who to stop. Even if the defensive line isn’t able to get to the quarterback, they at least provide enough pressure that gives the nickel package a chance to make a big play. While the package doesn’t allow for a single player to stand out, it is so successful because it allows the group to stand out collectively. The Wisconsin game was a perfect example of that, as all four of the linemen feature in the “Rushmen” package registered a sack. The rest of Ohio State’s opponents this year know they have to find a way to slow down the “Rushmen” package if they want to have a shot at beating the Buckeyes, but it certainly is easier said than done.

With being ranked second in the country at the midway part of the season, it should come as no surprise that Ohio State players have been garnering plenty of accolades. Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports released his midseason All-American team and three Buckeyes were included on the list. Offensive linemen Pat Elflein and Billy Price, as well as defensive back Malik Hooker have all had a tremendous start to the season and were recognized for their play through Ohio State’s first six games. Elflein and Price certainly have earned the honors with Ohio State’s offense averaging over 500 yards of offense per game, with 300 of those yards per game coming from rushing the football.

In his first season starting for Ohio State, Hooker has already pulled down four interceptions. Not only has Hooker been great at defending the pass, but he has been a sure tackler, registering 29 tackles during through six games. During the second half of the Wisconsin game, Hooker laid a number of hard hits, which helped to spark the Ohio State defense.

The three players the Buckeyes placed on the list were the most of any team. Michigan and Texas A&M both played two players on Feldman’s list. The Wolverines had defensive back Jourdan Lewis selected, as well as Jabrill Peppers filling the all-purpose spot. The only other player from a Big Ten school recognized was Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk.

“I like aggressive guys. Everything about our program is somewhat aggressive. I think there’s a difference between non-intelligent and over-aggressive, and we have to watch that. We have a culture mentality around here that we’re going to go after it and be very aggressive.”

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer via Ari Wasserman, Cleveland.com

Ohio State fans must have been thinking that they would be able to breathe a little easier on punt returns this year now that Jalin Marshall wasn’t back there returning punts. Wrong. Against Wisconsin, Dontre Wilson muffed a punt in the third quarter, but luckily Ohio State didn’t lose the football. Both Wilson and Meyer downplayed just how serious the muffed punt was, but had Ohio State lost the football they might not be undefeated right now.

The fact is that Meyer wants his player to be aggressive, but he also wants his players to be smart about when they are aggressive. The muffed punt wasn’t the only return in which Wilson struck fear in the heart of Buckeye fans, as there were a couple others where fans held their breath a little longer than normal. Wilson said he had the football the whole time on the punt it looked like he had muffed, and for a second he could see Meyer with his head down over on the sidelines. After all nervousness that Marshall, and now Wilson, have brought to the punt returns, Ohio State might be due a couple of return touchdowns the rest of the year.

“When we’ve needed to punch it in, we have. We’ve had to kick a few field goals down there ... but I think our efficiency down there is pretty good.”

Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner via Bill Rabinowitz, The Columbus Dispatch

It has been pretty difficult for opponents to stop Ohio State anywhere on the field this year, but things get especially tough for the opposition when the Buckeyes get into the red zone. On 35 possessions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line this year, Ohio State has scored a touchdown on 24 of those possessions. Urban Meyer has three reasons as to why Ohio State has been successful this year when they get inside the red zone. Good players, the scheme, and the amount of time Ohio State spends practicing their red zone offense are all reasons why the Buckeyes are scoring touchdowns at a 68.6% clip inside the 20-yard line.

It’s not just Ohio State’s offense that has been strong in the red zone, but the Buckeye defense has been tough for opponents to crack when they get inside the 20-yard line. Not only has practicing red zone situations helped the offense, but it also has been a huge benefit for the Buckeye defense. The play of the defense when Oklahoma made it inside the red zone early in last month’s game set the tone for Ohio State, in a game they had little trouble with the Sooners in. Out of 16 trips inside Ohio State’ red zone, opponents have failed to score a touchdown 12 times, which is the best rate in the country. If both the offense and defense continue their tremendous red zone play, the rest of the country is going to be in trouble.

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