After allowing more than 500 yards of total offense to both Oregon and Tulsa, Ohio State’s defense entered Saturday’s game against Akron with something to prove.
That was especially apparent along the defensive line, which more than doubled its season output with nine sacks on the evening, tied for the fourth most in a single game in school history.
“Coach (Larry) Johnson challenged us earlier in the week, saying we had to get more pressure,” sixth-year senior defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson said after the game. “He put all the pressure on us this week and we showed what we can do.”
The Buckeyes were without multiple starters and key contributors on the defensive side of the ball, including defensive ends Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste, defensive tackle Taron Vincent and cornerback Cam Brown, but put together their most complete effort of the season.
In fact, if you take away Akron's nine-play, 55-yard scoring drive midway through the first quarter, Ohio State’s defense surrendered just 174 yards of total offense on the night. The Buckeyes also forced Zips quarterback D.J. Irons to throw a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned fo a touchdown by redshirt sophomore safety Ronnie Hickman, thanks to the pressure up front.
“Our game plan was to just play relentless, put pressure on them and play our own game and get better within our own technique,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Haskell Garrett said. “Coach Johnson set a goal for us to play fast and relentless, but also have fun.”
Garrett, a first-team All-American last season, finished the game with a career-high three sacks, just one shy of the program’s single-game record. Freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams added two sacks, while Jackson, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Jerron Cage, redshirt freshman Ty Hamilton and true freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer each recorded one of their own.
“The sacks don’t really matter,” Garrett said. “All that matters is that we played undeniable defense tonight as a defensive front. That’s all I was worried about.”
Garrett was especially happy to see Hamilton and Williams step up, as they recorded back-to-back sacks to keep Akron out of the end zone during the final minute of the game. After all, their continued improvement can only benefit the defense as the Buckeyes resume the Big Ten portion of their schedule.
“It was really just one of those games where you see what they got and how they can hone in going forward,” Garrett said. “This is a start. Now we’re going into conference play and d I’m confident in our young guys stepping up to the plate.
“It’s just about uplifting those guys, giving them confidence and getting them comfortable. They’re not freshmen (anymore). They have to grow up and they have to play ball.”
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