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Ohio State’s defense got back to their dominant ways against Army

Last Saturday USA was spelled OSU.

Army v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Buckeyes are back above .500, improving to 2-1 through three games for the first time since 2014 (foreshadowing?). The silver bullets were disciplined and limited big plays all afternoon, holding the nation’s leading rushing offense to 259 yards on 58 carries (4.45 yards per rush). Aside from one well-executed 18-play 99-yard touchdown drive, the Black Knights were thwarted for the better part of 60 minutes last Saturday.

A few statistical notes:

  • Army didn't go into this game expecting to move the ball through the air, and they unsurprisingly averaged a meager 2.4 yards per pass attempt on just eight passes.
  • The Buckeyes defense wasn't able to add to their sack total, but still managed to hurry the Black Knights on two of their eight passes and rack up five tackles for a loss.
  • Though the Black Knights converted 3-4 fourth-down attempts, they converted just 4-15 third-down attempts and only managed to snap the ball twice from inside the Buckeyes 20-yard line.

Army prides themselves on not turning the ball over and becoming something they’re not, so it’s not super surprising to see a lack of splash plays from the Ohio State defense. Still, several standouts helped make this game a healthy 31-point victory for the Buckeyes. Let’s check out a few notable plays.

Jerome Baker is the defense’s No.1 playmaker

Baker's nine tackles were tied for the second-most on the team and his speed consistently caused problems in the Army backfield. Whether it was running down the quarterback from behind on a slow-developing option, or scraping over the top to get after a running back on a sweep: Baker was everywhere.

Baker’s most-prominent moment came on an early 3rd-and-10 in the first quarter. It can be difficult to get option offenses off the field if they find a rhythm and consistently keep themselves in manageable situations, so it was imperative for the Buckeyes to get off the field when they did force Army into obvious passing situations. A well-designed blitz from Greg Schiano sprung Baker to the quarterback and he didn’t waste the opportunity:

The Buckeyes’ speed at linebacker was always going to be a tough obstacle for Army to overcome. Baker, Chris Worley, Tuf Borland, and Dante Booker did a great job all afternoon of not overrunning plays, and the Black Knights offense never quite got going as a result.

This game may have been a lot closer if it wasn’t for Erick Smith

The Buckeyes secondary allowed the most passing yards in the country through two weeks, but they may have found at least one answer in Smith. The only defensive player to play every snap of the game, Smith made two crucial diving stops in the contest. While his touchdown-saving tackle on an Army kick return was huge, Smith’s acrobatic pass deflection to save a deep touchdown was what the fan’s paid to see:

Overall, Smith’s nine tackles were tied for the second-most on the team, but more importantly he provided a stabilizing presence to the backend of a defense that was anything but stable the first two weeks of the season. The Buckeyes will likely continue to rotate their secondary, but it looks like Smith has forced his way into a full-time role.

The defensive line is still pretty good too

None of the rushmen managed to tally a sack last Saturday, but they still took over the game like always. The only thing scarier than big-athletic linemen are big-athletic linemen that hustle, and Ohio State has about six of those players. Any misstep in option typically led to some crushing hits and plenty of bodies around the football:

The fullback dive can cripple a defense if not consistently defended, and Ohio State was more than fine with Army trying to win with perimeter runs. The Buckeyes defense was forced to play for nearly 37 minutes Saturday, but they got stops when it mattered and allowed their fewest points of the season.

Ohio State was expected to crush Army; they won by 31 points. There weren’t any flashy pick sixes or strip sacks, but maybe 60 minutes of disciplined, sound football is what his team needed. On to UNLV.

The final: 38-7, Ohio State

Defensive player of the game: Erick Smith (9 tackles, 1 pass deflection)

Defensive play of the game: Erick Smith touchdown-saving pass defleciton.

Next Victim: UNLV. True fans will begin their tailgate Friday night at the Hollywood Casino. Keep it classy, Columbus.