ARLINGTON, Texas – Ohio State pays Larry Johnson $750,000 a year to develop young men and young defensive linemen.
All things considered, that may not be enough.
With the Buckeyes trailing to start the second half on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson completed a third-and-6 for a first down, a big play to keep the half’s first drive going. Behind the play, though, something far more important was happening: Nick Bosa was still on the turf and not getting up.
Bosa, the Buckeyes Heisman candidate defensive lineman (even if he won’t accept that premise), left the game and did not return. The Ohio State defensive line had been the team’s best unit all night, excelling again while the linebackers appeared to struggle and defensive backs were battled down the field on every route. The loss of Bosa should have been a turning point in the Frogs favor.
With the on-field leader out of commission, Ohio State’s defensive line turned up their energy and cranked up the pressure on Shawn Robinson and TCU’s running game. And the work of the genius on the sideline really took hold.
Much like they did a year ago in the Buckeyes incredible comeback win over Penn State, with an almost entirely different cast of primary characters, it was Larry Johnson’s group that turned the tide.
As I watched the game unfold from the field at AT&T Stadium, I was struck by the realization that there would be no Nick Bosa at Ohio State if there wasn’t a Larry Johnson at Ohio State.
There is a lot of talk about brotherhood inside the Ohio State locker room, but no position group exemplifies it more than the Rushmen. His calm, steadying influence seems to embolden his players every single time they need to step up. A tactician who preaches as much as he teaches, Johnson’s linemen are the backbone of a defense still trying to find its way in the back seven.
Since his arrival in 2014, Johnson has done nothing but provide consistent, reliable leadership in the locker room while helping develop dozens of young men into grown men, on the field and in the community. While Ryan Day will deservedly receive accolade upon accolade for his stewardship of Meyer’s program in his absence, and Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson continue to be lauded for their mentorship of Day, Johnson just coaches and teaches, leading the country’s best defensive line as it leads the Buckeyes.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call because we lost our best guy,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “So we had to go out there and play. I mean, there’s no one else to rely on. We had to rely on ourselves.
“We had to rely on each other.”
And the training that comes directly from Johnson.
There are no smoke and mirrors. There’s no fear and intimidation. There’s only Johnson, cool and confident. It’s next man up and get your brother’s back. That begins with Johnson’s leadership and ends with his genuine and obvious love for the young men he’s developing.
On Saturday night, without his group standing up while their best player was sitting out, an imperfect Buckeyes team could be staring at an imperfect record. Instead, Ohio State is 3-0 and heading home, where they’ll be greeted by Urban Meyer as he prepares to reassume full control of his program.
Meyer is fond of asking his guys: “What will you do when you need the most?” On Saturday night, with their backs against the wall, the defensive line once again answered that question for Ohio State.
And thanks to the priceless work from Larry Johnson, it kept the Buckeyes firmly in the hunt for a third College Football Playoff appearance.