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Ohio State’s defense is playing at a very, very high level right now

Last Saturday domination was spelled B-u-c-k-e-y-e-s.

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ohio State’s defense hit a rough patch prior to the Nebraska game. Sure, turnovers and special team miscues had a lot to do with some of the scores allowed, but seeing the Buckeyes allow 20-plus points in three consecutive games was something that hadn’t happened since 2014.

Since the Northwestern game, Ohio State has allowed six total points to Nebraska and Maryland. They’ve completely shut down both the run and pass:

  • The Buckeyes have allowed just 380 total yards during the past two weeks after they allowed 400-plus yards to both Northwestern and Wisconsin.
  • Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Malik Harrison, Tyquan Lewis and Jonathon Cooper all recorded a sack against Maryland. The Buckeyes can get pressure with just their four defensive lineman, but they’ve also found new ways to free up blitzing linebackers and this has lead to a lot of success in getting to the quarterback.
  • Maryland rushed for 43 yards on 40 carries. Three different Buckeyes had more than 43 rushing yards. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Saturday’s lopsided score featured an abundance of great individual performances. Let’s take a look at three of the better plays.

“We stress making the plays that come your way and not trying to go out of control to do something you’re not supposed to do, and he’s the pillar of that.” - Luke Fickell on Raekwon McMillan

McMillan was all over the field Saturday and his performance was good enough to earn player of the game honors from coach Urban Meyer. While he hasn’t made a ton of splash play this season that have wound up on ESPN, there are very few if any linebackers in the country that can match McMillan’s consistency.

The idea that Ohio State’s defense struggles against the interior run is only true to an extent. Yes, teams have had some success running the ball up the middle on the Buckeyes this season. However, this has more or less been the result of Ohio State preventing any type of chunk plays down the field.

As the above image shows, Ohio State lines up with six men in the box for a clear run situation. They are content with challenging Maryland six-on-six at the line of scrimmage, as they’d rather force the opponent to continuously move the ball down the field than allow a deep pass over their safeties heads.

Ohio State dials up a corner blitz expecting a run into the boundary. McMillan’s first step was actually to his right, but he is able to redirect quickly and get his eyes on the ball carrier. If the Terrapins’ right tackle can hold up McMillan for even a second, a third-down conversion is likely.

Instead, McMillan beats the right tackle to the spot and meets the running back in the hole. Recognizing the situation, McMillan goes high and drives straight through the ball carrier as he cannot afford to give up an inch. With a one-on-one battle for the first down, the winner is...

Mr. McMillan. Sam Hubbard joined in on the fun, but this crucial third-down stop (which was somehow initially ruled a first down) was all Raekwon. Ohio State’s defensive line normally does a great job at occupying blockers to free up the linebackers. Even on plays like this where the offense has a clear numbers advantage, playmakers like McMillan have stepped up and won their individual matchup.

“He's a man's man. I love that guy.” - Urban Meyer on Tyquan Lewis

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Lewis is the Buckeyes’ best pure pass rusher. He combines a plethora of pass rushing moves with acceleration that is rare for someone that stands 6’4 260 lbs. Lewis balled out last Saturday and managed to notch his sixth sack of the season.

Lewis’ jump off the snap is stopped as Maryland fakes a zone read in an attempt to give their quarterback room to roll out to his right. Upon realizing it’s a pass, Lewis attacks the pulling lineman’s outside shoulder in order to keep contain. The Terrapins pulled their guard so he could get outside and open up a rollout, but Lewis beat him to the punch. A beautiful rip move frees Lewis from the lineman and the quarterback is subsequently tossed to the ground like a rag doll.

Ohio State has taken steps in generating more pressure with blitzes, but their ability to generate pressure with four linemen is so important to the entire defense. It’s hard enough for opposing quarterbacks to make accurate throws against the elite Buckeyes’ secondary, but passing becomes nearly impossible when Ohio State can generate pressure with four guys.

"We're like Shaq and Kobe ... He's Shaq." - Malik Hooker on his basketball relationship with Gareon Conley

We’ve gone over Hooker’s basketball skills before, but he’s apparently not the only Buckeye in the secondary that can hoop. Conley is smaller than Hooker, but apparently not on the court, as he and Hooker are reportedly the team’s two-best ballers.

Anyways, the duo isn’t bad on the gridiron either. Make no mistake about it: this game was a blowout. Still, it was a blowout because of numerous momentum-stopping plays that the defense was able to make all afternoon.

The Buckeyes bring some heat up the middle on this fourth-and-one, but the Terrapins call an outside run and are able to briefly get the edge. The problem is that Conley didn’t bite on his receiver’s inside route. Upon redirecting to the outside, Conley accelerates and is able to stop the runner’s momentum enough for Hooker and Lewis to finish the job. Conley’s tackling form wasn’t a work of art, but few corners will show his willingness to dive full speed at a running back. The result was a crucial stop that earned not one, but two fist pumps by Luke Fickell on the sideline.

This Ohio State defense is playing fast, physical and confident. Add in a scheme that is growing by the week and there’s no telling what the ceiling of this unit might be.

The final: 62-3 Ohio State.

Defensive player of the game: Raekwon McMillan.

Defensive play of the game: Hooker & Conley 4th-and-1 stop.

Next victim: Michigan State. See you all next week.