Ohio State's defense does its part, doesn't let Kenneth Walker III run

Lori Schmidt
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State's defense knew that it couldn't let Walker run. 

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III entered Saturday's matchup with OSU as the nation's leading rusher, averaging 147.3 yards per game. He had 17 rushing touchdowns, and no player had more 20-plus yard carries than Walker's 19. 

Walker left Ohio Stadium with 25 yards on six carries, a long of 15, and feeling "banged up," according to Spartans coach Mel Tucker. 

"I think they took it as a challenge," Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said after his team's 56-7 win. "Certainly had a lot of respect for Walker coming into the game and wanted to do a good job stopping the run and make them play really one dimensional. And I thought we did that."

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After the Buckeyes beat Purdue 59-31 a week prior, Day had said that the team was still looking for a complete game, noting the offense had carried the day while the defense had not quite done its part.

The defense responded by not only stifling Walker, but by holding Michigan State to 224 yards and a touchdown scored only after the second-teamers had entered the contest. 

"We just went into practice, we talked amongst the d-line, amongst the defense," said defensive tackle Haskell Garrett. "We just decided to have a different mindset about this week." 

Garrett contributed a sack on a day when Ohio State had nine tackles for loss overall. OSU also recorded 11 pass breakups even though cornerback Denzel Burke missed part of the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. Burke had two passes defended before exiting.

Add to that safety Ronnie Hickman's forced fumble that gave the Buckeyes the ball at the Michigan State 44-yard line, allowing Ohio State to score 1:48 later to go up 28-0 at the start of the second quarter, and it was as strong a performance on that side of the ball as Ohio State has put together this season.

Senior end Tyreke Smith acknowledged that the Ohio State offense contributed to the defense's success. 

By getting up so quickly, the Buckeyes forced Michigan State into a situation where the Spartans needed to throw to make up ground, neutralizing Walker by preventing him from ever getting the ball. 

"Both sides of the ball, they feed off each other," Smith said. "So when they come out scoring — getting points on the board early — and we come out with three-and-outs, that's just good chemistry coming together." 

It was a far different cry from earlier in the season when Ohio State allowed Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim to run for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, only to get torched again a week later when Oregon's CJ Verdell went for 161 and two touchdowns on 20 carries. 

Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison (9) wraps up Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) during the first quarter of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

"We had a lot of new faces, and now th those guys have experience," Garrett said. "The chemistry has been built on the field, and we know how to communicate with each other. And each week we've gotten better." 

But as Day noted when discussing the defense's effort, "We're going to have another challenge coming up this week." 

Ohio State travels to rival Michigan on Saturday. 

The College Football Playoff schedule

Here are the dates to know for the College Football Playoff: 

  • Selection show: Noon Dec. 5 on ESPN
  • Cotton Bowl: 3:30 or 7:30 p.m., Dec. 31 on ESPN
  • Orange Bowl:  3:30 or 7:30 p.m., Dec. 31 on ESPN
  • College Football Playoff national championship game: 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 on ESPN

The College Football Playoff rankings

  1. Georgia 10-0
  2. Alabama 9-1
  3. Oregon 9-1
  4. Ohio State 9-1
  5. Cincinnati 10-0
  6. Michigan 9-1
  7. Michigan State 9-1
  8. Notre Dame 9-1
  9. Oklahoma State 9-1
  10. Wake Forest 9-1
  11. Baylor 8-2
  12. Ole Miss 8-2
  13. Oklahoma 9-1
  14. BYU 8-2
  15. Wisconsin 7-3
  16. Texas A&M 7-3
  17. Iowa 8-2
  18. Pittsburgh 8-2
  19. San Diego State 9-1
  20. NC State 7-3
  21. Arkansas 7-3
  22. UTSA 10-0
  23. Utah 7-3
  24. Houston 9-1
  25. Mississippi State

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