Ohio State's defensive line imposes its will
LINCOLN, Neb. — When Ohio State intercepted quarterback Adrian Martinez for the first time in its 48-7 rout of Nebraska on Saturday night, it came after some pressure.
On a third-and-7 on the Cornhuskers’ opening series, defensive end Chase Young broke into the backfield in pursuit of Martinez. The quarterback rolled to his right and then hurried a pass toward freshman receiver Wan’Dale Robinson for a first down.
The side-armed throw was snagged by Jeff Okudah for the first of his two interceptions.
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The Buckeyes sacked Martinez four times, tying their lowest total in a game this season, but continued to pressure him. It had been a focus throughout the week of preparation.
“One thing we have to do is close the pocket on him,” defensive tackle Jashon Cornell said. “If we cause him to be in a tunnel, it doesn't allow him to run the ball, allow him to get outside the pocket, because that's one thing he can do really good. He can get outside the pocket and make plays.”
Martinez was flustered. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 47 yards with three interceptions and ran 15 times for 81 yards.
The Cornhuskers compiled only 231 yards, well below their season average. In their first four games, they had averaged 486 yards, ranking 24th in the nation in total offense. Their first touchdown came late in the third quarter.
Ohio State’s defensive line had more depth.
After missing the first four games because of an undisclosed injury, senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper made his first start opposite Young.
During his absence, Cooper watched from the sideline in street clothes. Left out of games and some practices, he served as a mentor for underclassmen.
“The one thing Coop has done really well is help the younger guys,” defensive tackle Jashon Cornell said this week. “He's been in the playbook with them, he's been in the film room with them, and helping them with what he does best and it's scheming against a different team.”
Cooper had one tackle in his return, and defensive tackle Robert Landers, who also returned after missing the Miami University game last week, had a tackle.
Through the first four weeks, the Buckeyes had 20 sacks, tied with Florida and Virginia for the most in the nation. Seven of the 20 were by Young, who commanded much of the attention and various double-teams from opposing offensive linemen. He had a sack against the Cornhuskers.
The pressure helped, but Cornell thought Young left others on the defensive line overlooked by observers.
“He commands a lot of attention that they can forget about the other guys sometimes,” Cornell said, before listing off several players. “The one thing they don't know is this defensive line is a great defensive line and everybody has an opportunity to go make plays.”