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Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan is making game-changing plays on a weekly basis

Maybe if McMillan ran a few QB sweeps he’d be a Heisman contender.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State improved to 7-1 this past Saturday with a win over Northwestern. Still, the Wildcats weren’t intimidated and were able to consistently move the ball all afternoon.

A few quick notes from the game:

  • The Buckeyes allowed the Wildcats to rush for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. That’s just the second time they’ve allowed more than five yards per rush this season (Wisconsin).
  • Malik Hooker led the team with 14 tackles and now has 21 total tackles over the past two games. He showed early in the season how dangerous he can be as a playmaker in coverage, now we’re just how good he is against the run as well.
  • For the second-straight week the Buckeyes only managed to get one sack. They’re getting plenty of pressure with their four defensive linemen, but it will be interesting to see if they begin to bring more pressure in an effort to cause more negative plays.

Let’s take a look at some of the better individual efforts from Saturday.

Raekwon McMillan is still a baller

All McMillan has done this year is consistently make tackles in the middle of the defense, but big plays from the secondary have left Ohio State’s best defensive player out of the limelight through the first eight games of the season. That changed this past Saturday, as McMillan was responsible for creating the Buckeyes only turnover of the afternoon.

McMillan is lined up four yards from the line of scrimmage fully anticipating a run. Ohio State only has six defenders in the box to account for seven Wildcats, a strategy they’re able to deploy thanks to the defensive line’s ability to shed their blocks and handle the run game without safety help.

The Wildcats utilize play action to suck McMillan and Jerome Baker up to the line of scrimmage, but McMillan is able to keep his eyes on the quarterback and this keeps him in the play. The good thing about the Buckeyes’ defensive line generating so much pressure on their own is that it often causes opposing offenses to overcompensate and call a bunch of quick passes. McMillan recognizes this likely threat and positions himself in the quarterback’s passing lane.

McMillan is able to react and get a hand on the pass as the quarterback fails to squeeze the ball into the now-tight passing lane. Most linebackers would have been too close to the line of scrimmage to effect the slant route, but McMillan isn’t most linebackers. Clayton Thorson is not a small quarterback at 6’4”, but McMillan uses his vert to get up in the air and make a play on the ball.

After McMillan tipped the pass, Damon Arnette was able to cut in front of the receiver and intercept the ball. Arnette has gotten beat by deep-out routes over the past few weeks, but has remained around the ball and was rewarded here thanks to his middle linebacker. McMillan may not make the flashiest plays (though he has before), but there isn’t another Buckeye that is more important to the defense.

Malik Hooker erases angles

Hooker hasn’t made any ridiculous interceptions lately, but he’s still making extraordinary plays on a weekly basis. Last week, one of his more impressive plays came with the Buckeyes’ backs against the wall.

Ohio State has their run assignments accounted for without Hooker, as his job on this play was to take away any passes in the middle of the field. Northwestern realizes they have a numbers advantage to the boundary and calls a read option.

It didn’t look like Thorson necessarily read Sam Hubbard, as Hubbard stayed home and didn’t “crash” to the running back. Still, Thorson keeps the ball and attempts to get outside with his only immediate threat currently occupied by the wide receiver. Meanwhile, Hooker deciphers the play from afar and begins to work his way to the line of scrimmage.

Thorson has a step on Hubbard and is about eight yards away from Hooker. Some might say Thorson has the angle to get outside and make it to the pylon, but then Hooker decided to open up the jets with the play call fully realized.

As it turned out, Thorson couldn’t outrun the best safety in college football. In fact, he barely made it back to the line of scrimmage. Hooker is still getting better at making his reads more quickly, but once he knows where the play is going, look out, because there are few players in the country with his acceleration and playmaking ability.

Tyquan Lewis is still pretty good, too

Lewis led the Buckeyes in sacks last year, but between the emergence of Nick Bosa, the beastly potential of Sam Hubbard and the big plays from Jalyn Holmes: Lewis has been rendered an afterthought on defense. It’s not due to his play, as he continues to get to the quarterback whenever teams dare block him with a single player.

Lewis is lined up as the defensive end at the top of the screen. He gets a good jump off the ball and is able to rip past the right tackle and clear his hips almost immediately. This is great, but if Lewis was the only person getting pressure on this play, the quarterback would be able to step up into the pocket to avoid Lewis. On this particular play, Nick Bosa manages to bull rush the left tackle nearly five yards deep into the backfield, leaving the quarterback no where to go but into the waiting arms of Lewis.

Even if the results haven’t been as pretty as most would have liked, it’s still easy to see that Ohio State boasts one of the most talented defenses in the country. This allows Ohio State to leave six defenders in the box and still hold up against most run games, a move that would lead to 60-plus points on your average Big 12 team. With the young group growing up fast, look for more sophistication to come out of the defense in the coming weeks. After all, the only thing scarier than facing a talented defense is not knowing where they’re coming from.

The final: 24-20, Ohio State

Defensive player of the game: Malik Hooker (team-high 14 tackles)

Defensive play of the game: Damon Arnette interception caused by Raekwon McMillan tip.

Next Victim: Nebraska. See you all next week.