COLUMBUS — Robert Landers has never accumulated the most stats along the defensive line for Ohio State.
He has never been the talk of Larry Johnson’s room, a conversation that outside of it is reserved for superstar defensive ends. But in his five years at Ohio State, Landers has made some big plays when the Buckeyes needed them.
His biggest play may have came Saturday, when up just eight points, the Buckeyes caught a break. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson had trouble with a snap. The ball was free, and it was picked up by Landers, who came out of the pile with the ball held over his head in jubilation. Ohio State scored on the ensuing drive to take a two-score lead before halftime.
The game never got back to a one-score affair in the Buckeyes 56-27 win over their rival.
“We were running a certain play, and I was pushing up against the guard,” Landers said. “I just saw brown. I saw the ball, and my mindset was: ‘All right, pick it up and run. Let’s see what we can do.’
“But I got knocked over. At that point in time, it was like, let’s do something to change the game. Just tried to recover the ball and get the ball back for the offense to let them get rolling.”
Landers seemed to be in the perfect place at the perfect time to recover that fumble, one of many Wolverines miscues that led to another Ohio State blowout victory in The Game. But that was far from the only play Landers made that ultimately mattered.
Early in the fourth quarter, Michigan faced a fourth-and-1 from its own 29-yard line. The Wolverines went for it, and Landers dropped Hassan Haskins in the backfield for a loss, sealing the eighth straight win for the Buckeyes over Michigan.
“Up front, they were an elite offensive line,” he said. “We definitely had our work cut out for us today, and we knew that coming into this game.”
Even against that elite offensive line, Landers found a way to make a huge impact in a huge moment. But he isn’t the only Ohio State player who helped himself in the rivalry domination in the Big House. Lettermen Row picked others who could benefit from the win.
WR Garrett Wilson
The muffed punt by Garrett Wilson would be the dominant headline surrounding his first time in The Game, except he made sure to torch the Michigan defense, leaving that miscue in the rearview as he began to write his legacy in the biggest rivalry in college football. Wilson had a huge gain on a shallow cross, he hauled in a deep pass that set up a J.K. Dobbins touchdown run and he was on the receiving end of a Heisman Trophy moment from Justin Fields for a touchdown. His final line: three catches, 118 yards and a touchdown. That’s certainly a good outing for a true freshman in the biggest game of the year. The hype surrounding Wilson before the season was well-earned. Wilson is becoming a star. Now, if he can only field every punt cleanly.
Ohio State tight ends
Ohio State just won’t stop giving the ball to J.K. Dobbins. It’s hard to view that as a bad thing — Dobbins is making a claim to be the best running back in college football and one of the best in Ohio State history. As the Buckeyes continue to give Dobbins carries on stretch runs to the outside, the Ohio State tight ends keep crashing defensive lines down, making it easy for Dobbins to turn the corner and find his way to a big gain. While the Buckeyes interior offensive line deserves a lot of credit for Dobbins’ success this season, the tight ends are doing a fantastic job creating an edge on the line for the tailback to speed by for big yardage.
DB Amir Riep
Amir Riep struggled in the first half as Shea Patterson torched the Buckeyes defense through two quarters. Either a switch was flipped or Ohio State made major adjustments, because Patterson looked terrible in the second half — and Riep was part of the reason why. As the game wore on, Riep found himself on the field more and more while Shaun Wade was held out with injury. And Riep continued to improve in coverage as the game went. By the end of the blowout, Riep broke up a pass, had three tackles and picked off a Patterson pass. The first half was rough without Wade, but Riep and the Buckeyes tightened up to help secure a win. He might have played well enough to earn field time in a potential matchup with LSU or Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
DE Jonathon Cooper
Knowing he only had one more game to play in before shutting himself down and redshirting, Jonathon Cooper chose The Game. He could have played in the College Football Playoff. He could have waited until the Big Ten title game. He could’ve held out in hopes of playing in New Orleans for a national title. But he chose to play his final game of the season against Michigan, proving what the rivalry means to these Buckeyes. Not only did Cooper play a majority of the snaps, he even recorded a sack of Shea Patterson in the second half. He certainly earned even more respect than he already had as a captain from his teammates for choosing to play against Michigan. And next year, Cooper will be back to lead the Rushmen.