COLUMBUS — A reeling Ohio State defense at this time a year ago really just needed one guy to step up in pressure situations.
Now anybody that steps on the field for the Buckeyes is chipping in on the dominance, highlighting just how remarkable the turnaround has been for the top-ranked outfit in the country.
Nowhere is that rejuvenation more clear than at linebacker. That position was almost universally viewed as the weakest link on a defense that had plenty of blame to go around as it finished the season as the worst in school history. But with exactly the same personnel, the Buckeyes have left little doubt that a lack of talent was never the problem — with last week’s win over Penn State serving as the prime example.
Pete Werner paced the team in tackles and broke up two passes. Malik Harrison added two tackles for loss. Baron Browning racked up 1.5 sacks. Tuf Borland made seven hits and was a fixture around the football. Then Justin Hilliard provided the capper with the veteran nabbing an interception that set off a raucous celebration for Ohio State and gave the linebackers another measure of unit satisfaction.
“Yeah, that was awesome,” Ohio State captain Tuf Borland said. “Anytime guys can go out there and make big plays in big spots, it’s just awesome to see. I think that just shows how close this group is … whoever is making a play, everyone is jumping on them and congratulating them. It’s a really close group.
“Right now there are extremely high levels of confidence, extremely high level of trust and confidence that the people around you are going to get their jobs done. We can all contribute and play at a high level to make this thing go.”
Nothing so far has been able to slow down the Buckeyes, and beyond winning games, the stingy defense is also now helping set them apart in the College Football Playoff rankings. Another big, physical test awaits on Saturday at rival Michigan — but defense tends to travel, and that could be the decisive edge for Ohio State in The Game.
What has allowed the linebackers to play at such a high level for Ohio State? How impressive is the overall depth for the Buckeyes? Where will those guys have the biggest impact in The Game against Michigan? Former Ohio State linebacker and captain Zach Boren was back in the Lettermen Row film lab breaking down the film from the Penn State win and answering those questions in the latest episode of BuckIQ.
Roll the tape!
Lettermen Row senior writer Austin Ward contributed the editorial content for this post.