Ohio State’s rebuilt secondary soared through the first month of the season, picking off passes at an amazing rate and scoring more touchdowns than it allowed.
Some cracks in the armor started showing in game five against Indiana, though, and Wisconsin hit several big pass plays while pushing Ohio State to the brink of an upset in Madison.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, coach Urban Meyer has been collecting four- and five-star defensive line recruits like candy since he got to Columbus.
The fruits of those labors have scarcely been riper than they were Saturday when four players registered sacks, none bigger than Tyquan Lewis’ to end the game.
The senior end was credited with the takedown of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, but he was far from alone in the Badgers’ backfield.
“We just say, ‘Party at the quarterback,’ ” Jalyn Holmes explained. “It’s a race and we just celebrate when we get there.”
Holmes isn’t a starter, but he is one of the four ends who comprise defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s “Rushmen” package.
The others are Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa, and they all had sacks in Madison, too.
“That nickel package is a lot of speed, a lot of skill on the field,” Hubbard said. “We had a lot of success on Saturday night and it’s fun to be out there with those guys because everybody can make a play at any time.”
Johnson has talked about playing multiple players up front since he arrived in Columbus two years ago, but never has he been able to do so as much as he has so far in 2016.
Among the reasons for that is the emergence of Bosa, a five-star freshman who arrived on campus to much fanfare and pressure to replicate the career of his older brother, Joey, a two-time All-American who was the second pick in last spring’s NFL draft.
“He’s a less talk and open ears type of guy,” Holmes said of the younger Bosa. “He just takes in coaching every week and tries to focus on one way to get better and when Saturday comes, he performs that way. He’s a great listener and a great teammate.”
Meyer, meanwhile, was more interested in talking about Lewis, the lone senior in the group and owner of a team-high four sacks.
“I feel Tyquan constantly energizing those around him, and the last play was a perfect example of what he did to create — he’s the first one there,” Meyer said. “That whole thing about, when we needed you the most, you played your best. We needed him at that point, and he played his best.”
Seven defensive linemen have at least half a sack at the midway point in the season, and the Rushmen figure to play a more prominent role as the season continues.
“They don’t know who to double, who to chip. who to max protect because the minute they leave someone else with a one-on-one matchup, they’re gonna make the play,” Hubbard said. “So the quarterback’s watching the rush, not the coverage, so that’s a pretty scary thing I’m sure.”