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Ohio State’s lock-down secondary and relentless front-seven made their Big Ten dreams a reality

Let’s take a look at the defensive film from the Buckeyes’ win in the Big Ten title game.

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

For the second time in four years, the Ohio State Buckeyes are the official champions of the Big Ten. A previously undefeated Wisconsin squad refused to quit, but gutsy performances on both sides of the ball from the Buckeyes got the job done.

Some notes:

  • The key to stopping the Badgers offense is to eliminate their ground game and force the team’s underwhelming passing attack to make plays down the field. The Buckeyes were able to do just that, holding Wisconsin to 60 rushing yards on 32 carries. The Badgers longest run of the evening was just seven yards.
  • Ohio State’s cornerbacks — especially Denzel Ward — played great for the majority of the game, but the Badgers were able to generate some offense through some clever play-action and misdirection, that often resulted in a successful screen or pass to a running back in the flat.
  • The Buckeyes managed to once again control the line of scrimmage and create turnovers. Alex Hornibrook threw two interceptions and was sacked three times, one each from Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Jerome Baker.

The close six-point victory is more a fault of the offense than the defense, as Wisconsin benefited from a pick-six and later turned J.T. Barrett’s second interception into a touchdown as well. Ultimately, the Badgers couldn’t drive the field on the Big Ten’s best defense when it mattered most, and the Buckeyes can call themselves champions because of it. Let’s take a look at some of last Saturday’s best-individual performances.

And in the 1st-Round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the ______ select: Denzel Ward

Ward’s rise from freshman-phenom on the kickoff unit, to an overqualified No. 3 corner in a ridiculously good 2016 secondary, to one of the nation’s premiere lock-down corners has been a treat for Buckeye fans. Ward is the rare cornerback that not only isn’t afraid to hit; he relishes in contact.

Of course, it won’t be his hitting that gets his named called early in next April’s draft: It’ll be the game-changing speed and ball skills that allows him to track and make plays on receivers all over the field:

Ward’s early interception thwarted Wisconsin’s best drive of the game, and he came up big on numerous other plays when the Badgers tested him. The deep shots that are normally 50/50 balls for offenses can quickly become 75/25 balls in the wrong direction against Ohio State. While guys like Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette proved to be very solid pieces in the secondary, Ward’s alpha-like presence helped push the secondary to great heights after a rough start to the season.

Nick Bosa is going to be back next year!

Somehow, the game-wrecker that wears No. 97 on Saturdays is just a Sophomore and will thus be gracing Columbus with his presence for another season. Through 13 games Bosa has racked up seven sacks and countless pressures against the best tackles the Big Ten has had to offer. Saturday night was no different, as he proved to be a problem against both the run and pass for 60 minutes:

Bosa will be the Buckeyes’ unquestioned leader next year on the defensive line with multiple starters leaving for the draft, but that role won’t necessarily be anything new for him. He’s emerged as the shiniest star in a front seven full of them, and Bosa will look to dispose of Sam Darnold on his way to what will be an incredibly-hyped Junior campaign.

Jerome Baker’s ability on the gridiron is limitless

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin exposed one major disadvantage most teams run into when facing the Buckeyes: Speed. Most teams can field wide receivers, cornerbacks, and running backs with sub-4.5 second 40-yard dashes, but only blue-chip programs like the Buckeyes, Alabama, and Clemson seem to be able to consistently churn out speed demons inside their front seven. Baker is a prime example of this type of player:

Hornibrook will probably never be confused for a spread-option quarterback, but Baker has been able to eliminate the quarterback spy for the majority of his tenure at middle linebacker. His ability to sniff out screens was also on display Saturday night in the biggest of moments. The Buckeyes’ linebackers certainly had their fair share of issues earlier in the season, but they played as large a role as anybody in completely eliminating the best rushing attacks the Big Ten had to offer. Baker led the way against the Badgers with a team-high 16 tackles including 12 solo stops.

It wasn’t quite 59-0, but walking away from Indianapolis with a Big Ten title should be relished nonetheless. The Buckeyes entered the season knowing they needed to create more explosive plays on offense while continuing to breed lock-down defenses. The sounds an awful lot like the unit that just took down the 12-0 Badgers.

The final: 27-21, Ohio State

Defensive player of the game: Jerome Baker (16 tackles, 12 solo, 2 TFL, 1 sack)

Defensive play of the game: Denzel Ward interception stops early-Badgers threat..

Next Victim: The University of Southern California. Keep it classy, Columbus.