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Ohio State’s defense finally found the endzone

After weeks of forcing turnover after turnover, the defense finally took one to the house.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“We’ve had a few turnovers in other games, but it’s sweet to finally get in the end zone.”

-Ohio State linebacker Dante Booker, via Tim Bielik, Cleveland.com

By comparison, it took a long time for the Ohio State Buckeyes defense to get their first defensive touchdown of the season. Perhaps it’s because, in 2016, the secondary collectively had three Pick-6’s in the first two games of the season. Or perhaps it seems a long time coming, since defensive tackle Robert Landers appeared to have a fumble return for a touchdown in the team’s opener against Indiana, which was ultimately called back.

While the unit has done a good job of forcing turnovers this season, taking away 12 through six games, including two against Maryland, they hadn’t managed to find the end zone until the first quarter Saturday. Sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa got to Maryland’s Max Bortenschlager for the sack, forcing a fumble by the quarterback. Junior linebacker Jerome Baker did the rest, scooping the ball up and returning it 20 yards for the touchdown.

The defensive touchdown was indicative of the way the unit played as a whole against Maryland. Though formidable against previous opponents, including Rutgers, against whom they pitched a shutout, the defense utterly shut Maryland down in every category Saturday. The secondary emerged in earnest, holding the Terps to just 16 yards passing on three completed passes. Overall, the defense held Maryland to 66 total yards of offense to the Buckeyes’ 584--the fewest yards allowed against a Big Ten opponent since 1960. Five sacks on the day further eroded Maryland’s rushing numbers as the defensive front seven showed their aptitude up front. Moreover, J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins individually had more rushing yards than the whole of Maryland’s offense. And when it counted, Maryland was not able to convert first downs, going just 1-for-15 on third downs. The Terps had just six first downs on the day to Ohio State’s 33.

“If I’m evaluating this play, I’m telling my on-field officials that this is not targeting, and certainly if it goes to replay, we want to overturn this and keep the player in the game.”

-Dean Blandino, FOX Sports

The 107,000-plus folks at the Horseshoe collectively (vehemently) disagreed with the targeting call made against junior quarterback Denzel Ward in the first quarter against Maryland Saturday. Ward made contact after Maryland receiver Taivon Jacobs turned to run after catching a pass from quarterback Max Bortenschlager. It was certainly a juggernaut of a hit, flipping Jacobs on his back and knocking the ball loose. Ward picked up the ball and began to return the ball for what would have been the Buckeyes’ second defensive touchdown of the game and season, but officials ruled the pass as incomplete, and called targeting on Ward.

The NCAA has an expansive definition and description of targeting, and yet the penalty manages to remain ambiguous. While defined as a player taking “aim at an opponent for the purpose of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball,” notes also reference launching, thrusting and leading with the helmet, shoulder forearm, fist, hand or elbow. This definition, naturally, expands beyond helmet-to-helmet contact specifically when there is a dangerous hit to a player’s head.

All targeting fouls go to the booth for review. If enforced, the offending player is ejected and that player’s team charged a 15-yard penalty. If overturned, there are no such consequences. Ward’s call managed to be called on the field and upheld in review, which indicated that some part of the hit met some component of the NCAA’s definition of targeting. Even so, rules analyst Dean Blandino did not think that Ward’s tackle met the mark for the penalty, given that he led with his shoulder into the receiver’s upper chest.

Fans can appreciate the need to make the game safer for players, but in order for the targeting rule to effectively contribute to that effort, it needs to be enforced consistently.

“I don’t fumble that much so it kind of got to me a little bit. I knew I had to make up for it for my teammates.”

-Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, via Ryan McGlade, Buckeye Sports

It is expected that freshmen will make mistakes, which is why it is a rare thing to see a true freshman earning serious playing time as a starter. For any other freshman, perhaps, it would not be shocking to commit a turnover. For true freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, however, that sort of mistake is utterly out of character.

After fumbling in the second quarter Saturday, Dobbins estimated that he had only ever lost the ball a handful of times his entire playing career, dating back to peewee football.

In many ways, it’s lucky that Dobbins saw the field at all again after his turnover versus Maryland. Urban Meyer is not one to forgive and forget such on-field atrocities so quickly, often sitting players for the remainder of the game after coughing the ball up. While sophomore running back Mike Weber took the next series, Dobbins was back in before the end of the half, and eventually ran in a three-yard touchdown in the third quarter. At the end of the day, Dobbins finished with a team-high 96 yards rushing.

Weber himself ended the day with 59 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. Sophomore Antonio Williams also got in on the action, racking up 22 yards and yet another touchdown. With such wealth at running back (and that’s not including Demario McCall, who has been steadily recovering from a groin injury) and a massive lead, Meyer could have kept Dobbins on the bench for the rest of the day without any adverse effects for the rest of the team.

Instead, Dobbins showed that he would make up for his mistakes as quickly as he could. “I know Coach Meyer has a lot of trust in me so I kind of let him down with that fumble,” said the freshman. “But I made sure I would make up for it.”

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