Garrett's interception for TD highlights strong Buckeyes defensive performance

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (92) celebrates after batting the ball and recovering it as an interception in the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – A defensive tackle catching a tipped pass for an interception is a pretty rare occurrence.

Not for Haskell Garrett lately.

The Ohio State senior had the biggest defensive play in the Buckeyes' 52-12 victory over Michigan State on Saturday when he tipped a pass from Spartans quarterback Rocky Lombardi and intercepted the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

“It's pretty weird,” Garrett said. “In walk-throughs on Thursday, the ball got tipped up in practice. I caught it and ran it back. Fortunately, it happened (again) during the game.”

For any defensive lineman, it would have been a special moment. For Garrett, whose season was imperiled when he was shot in the face in August trying to break up an altercation, it was even bigger.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It reassures me that I'm putting the right work in and doing the right things. It was very emotional. And I was just happy to change the momentum of the game.”

To be truthful, the game was already going the Buckeyes' way. Garrett's touchdown made it 28-0 in the second quarter as Ohio State's defense stifled the Spartans' offense. The Buckeyes had allowed only one first down and 50 yards in 18 plays to that point.

Ohio State wasn't as dominant the rest of the way. Backup Payton Thorne replaced the injured Lombardi and gave the Spartans a jolt. But the Buckeyes' defense also didn't collapse in the second half as it had in giving up four touchdowns in the final 30 minutes to both Rutgers and Indiana in Ohio State's previous two games.

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The only time it looked like the Spartans had a glimmer of hope came when they recovered a fumble at the Buckeyes' 35-yard line, trailing 35-7 in the third quarter. But cornerback Shaun Wade made a beautiful diving interception on the next play.

“I felt the kids came with a chip on their shoulder,” said defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who also served as the interim head coach in Ryan Day's absence. “They had something to prove, and I thought they played very well. They shut the run down. I thought the secondary played really well. The linebackers played well. They played as a unit.”

Michigan State gained only 261 yards, with only 81 on the ground (2.9 yards per carry.)

“Our goal is to have under 100 yards per game,” Garrett said. “Sometimes, that happens. Sometimes, it doesn't, but we really pride ourselves on that.”

The Buckeyes' defense wasn't hit as hard by COVID-related absences as the offense, but it was missing middle linebacker Tuf Borland, defensive end Tyler Friday and safety Josh Proctor. The adversity of the week seemed to give them extra motivation.

“They were having fun out there,” Johnson said. “When you're having fun, you can fly around, and that's what we did tonight. It was a great moment for all those guys on defense to come back and play as well as they played.”

It's safe to say no one had more fun than Garrett.

“It's pretty athletic to tip and catch your own tip,” Johnson said. “That's pretty good. But what a great story in Haskell Garrett himself. He's a guy who's probably lucky he's still here, and he's playing great football. I'm very proud of where he's at right now.”