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Broken Records You’re Nuts: Which Ohio State Football record will never be broken?

Records fall all the time, but not these.

Ohio State linebacker Marcus Marek, 1979
Ohio State University Libraries

All this week, LGHL writers will be bringing you articles inspired by their favorite Ohio State records. Check out all of our “Broken Records” thoughts throughout the week HERE. Whether you agree or disagree, let us know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Landgrant33.

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts. Much like last week, this week isn’t really much of a debate. Instead, we are just looking at two different records from Ohio State’s storied history.

This week’s topic: Which Ohio State Football record will never be broken?

Josh’s Take: Career tackles — Marcus Marek, LB (1979-1982)

In the history of Ohio State’s football program, individual player records are hard to come by. Some of them are held by the most talented players to come through the program. Others exist primarily due to player longevity. The ones that stand the longest are usually due to some combination of talent, longevity, and also opportunity.

In today’s game, it is rare for a freshman to come in, earn a starting spot immediately, and play consistently at a high level all season long. It is just as (if not more) rare for that same freshman to accomplish everything mentioned above, and then decide to stick around for four years. That is why I think Marcus Marek’s total tackles record will continue to stand for many years to come.

Marek was credited with 572 tackles during his OSU career! That puts him above the likes of Tom Cousineau, Chris Spielman, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, and all other Ohio State linebackers. He did not earn All-American honors until his senior season, unlike those other Buckeye legends. They are the ones that would normally come to mind when one thinks of an Ohio State tackling machine. Marek was incredibly underrated as a player, and I think his tackle record is equally under-appreciated.

Marek came to Columbus from tiny Trumbull County (OH), and earned a starting LB role as a true freshman. He remained at Ohio State for four years, and never looked back as a starter. His consistency, combined with the ability to fend off positional competition and remain healthy, allowed him to put up mind-blowing stats in nearly 50 games played. He led the Buckeyes in total tackles three seasons in a row, and his two best years put him at No. 3 and No. 8 on the single-season tackles list.

What makes Marek’s record so impressive is that he was around the ball from essentially the minute he got on campus, to the last time he walked off the field — and every minute of action in between. The early 80’s were a bit different, but think this about that for a second: he became an immediate starter, played in every game, never came off the field, and averaged nearly 12 tackles per contest. His best season was in 1982, when he was credited with 178 stops. He saved his best for last, setting a personal mark with 21 tackles against TTUN on Senior Day.

Marek’s tackling record is in no danger of falling soon for a number of reasons. I think it is difficult to argue a primary factor, but the one that jumps out to me is opportunity. Rarely do players come to Ohio State and start immediately. There is just too much talent in the program, and even the most talented freshman face a learning curve or older, equally talented players in front of them on the depth chart. If a player does start immediately at OSU, there is a good chance he is NFL-bound after three seasons. Injuries also help dictate opportunity. Marek was always on the field for four years, so he never missed a chance to take down opposing ball carriers.

The way college football has evolved is another factor that influences one’s ability to rack up volume statistics — specifically tackles and/or sacks. Styles of play have changed dramatically in the 21st century. Most teams do not run the ball nearly as much as they used to. Because of the emphasis on passing, and the lack of traditional running games, defenses are less likely to have three or more linebackers on the field. The Buckeyes’ game plan for 2021 is a perfect example. Ohio State will deploy various two-linebacker sets, limiting tackling opportunities for Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, and whomever else makes the shortened rotation. Marek regularly saw 50 opponent rushing attempts per game, whereas OSU might not see 20 when Purdue visits The Horseshoe on Nov. 13.

What gives me the most confidence in this record standing is simply the fact that it has — for nearly 40 years. Ohio State has seen the likes of Spielman, Hawk, Laurinaitis, Darron Lee, Raekwon McMillian, and so many other linebackers come through since Marek set the record in 1982. None of them have come particularly close. Hawk finished with 394 tackles (2005). Laurinaitis ended his career with 375 (2008). They were seasons away from catching Marek. No player since 1992 has totaled more than 400 (Steve Tovar).

Marcus Marek was a hell of a player. He possessed great talent, had a tremendous football IQ, and is arguably one of the top-5 linebackers in OSU football history. He also played a ton of games in a different era. Few Buckeyes start 40-50 games anymore. If they do, they rarely play at the same level as a guy who led the team in tackles for three straight seasons and became an All-American. Think Tuf Borland. Nothing against Borland, but he was “a guy”. Great leader, great teammate, solid player. If Borland had the talent of say, A.J. Hawk, he may have ended up with 472 tackles. But he did not. No player since 1982 has, and I expect that to remain the case for a long time.

Gene’s Take: Career interceptions — Mike Sensibaugh, CB (1968-1970)

The Buckeyes prides themselves on being a defensive back factory for the NFL. Despite schools like Florida, LSU and even Texas thinking they are at the top of the heap, Ohio State is the program that holds the one true claim to the title ‘DBU’. Since 1998, there have been 26 all-conference defensive backs to play in Columbus — more than any other school in the country. In the last six NFL Drafts, Ohio State has seen 11 DBs selected, with seven of those guys being taken in the first round.

Needless to say, there have been plenty of great corners and safeties to play at Ohio State, and it looks like that trend will only continue with the excellent recruiting prowesses of Ryan Day and Kerry Coombs. You would think, then, that any records involving the Buckeyes’ defensive secondary would be pretty easy to topple given the quality of player at those positions year in and year out, but that is not the case. For a lot of the same reasons Josh chose Marek’s tackle record, I think Mike Sensibaugh’s record of 22 career interceptions will stand forever.

Sensibaugh was a member of the Super Sophs class that led Ohio State to the 1968 National Championship. He was an incredible ball-hawking safety, and the back end of the Buckeye defense was nearly impenetrable with he and Jack Tatum locking it down. He hauled in nine interceptions in the 1969 season, which still ties for a school season record with Craig Cassidy, and another eight in 1970. Earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in both campaigns, he was also named a first-team All-American in 1970. His 22 career interceptions are not only an Ohio State record, but ranks second all-time among players in FBS history.

Not only was Sensibaugh a tremendous safety, but he was also a punter for the Buckeyes! He wasn’t too shabby at that job either, setting a Rose Bowl record with 319 punting yards in the team’s win over USC to secure a national title in 1968. For all of his outstanding efforts in Columbus, Sensibaugh was inducted in the Ohio State Hall of Fame in 1997, and was named to the Ohio State All-Century Team by the Touchdown Club of Columbus in 2000.

Following his Ohio State career, Sensibaugh went on to have an impressive eight-year stint in the NFL. Playing five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and another three with the St. Louis Cardinals, Sensibaugh picked off a whopping 27 passes over 92 career games played in the league. He played his final NFL season in 1978, and just recently passed away at 72 years old back in April of this year.

There are many reasons why I think Sensibaugh’s career interceptions record will stand forever at Ohio State, but first let’s just look at how the record book currently sits. Sensibaugh’s 22 picks is five most than the next guy on the list — Fred Bruney’s 17 in 1950-52. Nobody on the top-10 career list has played college football more recently than 1999. The most interceptions in a single season by a Buckeye in the modern era is Malik Hooker’s seven in 2016, and he is alone on that list with a bunch of guys that played in 2001 or earlier.

In fact, some of Ohio State’s best defensive backs in recent years have posted incredibly low interception totals. Denzel Ward only had two career picks. Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley each had four. Most recently, Jeff Okudah had three — all in his final season — and Damon Arnette had five, and these are all guys who were first-round NFL Draft selections! The most recent high-interception total by an OSU DB was probably Malcolm Jenkins, who finished with 11 career picks, but he was a rare four-year player and his last season was all the way back in 2008.

Like Josh said in his discussion about Malek, players simply don't play all four years at Ohio State. If you are good enough to make a significant impact as a freshman, you are most likely off to make that cash at the next level in three years. Especially at a place known for its NFL produced in the defensive secondary, a few good seasons in Columbus is likely enough to get you a spot in the first few rounds of the NFL Draft.

On top of that, quarterbacks are simply just better at football these days. The decision making is better, the level of athlete is better, and the knowledge of the game are all better than the guys tossing the rock back when Sensibaugh was giving them hell. Jeff Okudah was not a bad corner because he only picked off three passes in his time at Ohio State — opposing quarterbacks were simply smart enough to avoid throwing his way. If you’re a true lockdown corner like Okudah or Ward, your man is covered, and QBs these days know better than to test the best defensive back on the field and will look elsewhere instead.

For both of these reasons, Sensibaugh’s record of 22 career interceptions will almost certainly stand the test of time. Heck, we may never see another defensive back register double-digit career interceptions anymore, let alone work their way into the 20s. The game has changed dramatically, both in the way guys’ careers play out at the collegiate level and the way opposing offenses game plan to attack an Ohio State defense. The top corners don't get thrown at all that much, and those that present the biggest threat on the field don't stick around long enough to put up big numbers.