Jonathon Cooper provides pressure, leadership in Ohio State win at Penn State

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Defensive end Jonathon Cooper amassed a career-high five tackles and served as a disruptive presence in the backfield for Ohio State in its 38-25 win at Penn State on Saturday night.

It was a strong enough effort that it left observers to consider whether it was perhaps the best game in his five seasons with the Buckeyes.

Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper (0) applies pressure to Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford during the first quarter.

Judging for himself, Cooper wasn’t sure when asked during a conference call with reporters after the game. He pointed to other games against Michigan, noting he often played well against the Buckeyes' bitter rival.

In last season’s win over the Wolverines, he finished with three tackles and a sack. It was an inspiring effort. Eligible to play in only one more game if he hoped to preserve his redshirt and return for a fifth season this fall, Cooper chose to play in the rivalry game, offering a boost.

But as he considered his latest performance a little bit more, he thought it belonged in the same company.

“This one feels up there for sure,” Cooper said.

The high-stakes for the matchup and the environment at Beaver Stadium helped pushed him along and elevated his performance.

“Being Penn State, the way our coaches had us prepare and get ready took my game to the level it was supposed to be,” he added.

While recording a half-sack, Cooper also applied pressure in some cases that was left off the final stat sheet.

When Penn State faced a second-and-9 on the final play of the third quarter, Cooper burst out of his stance along the line of scrimmage and shoved all-conference tight end Pat Freiermuth into quarterback Sean Clifford.

In order to stay on his feet and find room to throw, Clifford sought to backpedal outside the pocket, but it was too late. He was crunched on the opposite side by Javontae Jean-Baptiste, a third-year sophomore defensive end for the Buckeyes.

Cooper long felt he had the ability to make this sort of impact. He just couldn’t often last season while he was hobbled by a high ankle sprain that limited him to appear in only four games.

Previous Ohio State defensive lineman have had big performances in wins at Penn State. Chase Young made a game-winning stop to prevail 27-26 two years ago. In 2014, end Joey Bosa had a walk-off sack to preserve the win at Beaver Stadium for the Buckeyes.

But beyond the plays by Cooper in the backfield against the Nittany Lions, he felt his leadership was perhaps his biggest contributions, pushing other defensive linemen to make an impact.

They sacked Clifford five times, improvement from their season-opening win over Nebraska the previous weekend when they totaled three sacks.

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“I feel like my leadership showed a lot tonight,” Cooper said, “just speaking for my defense and getting them going, getting them ready to go. I feel like my leadership throughout the entire game was my best performance, honestly, regardless of what I did on the field. I feel like getting my guys going and making sure that they're still in the game, and they're into it, is what I do best.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman