Sacks might be hard for Ohio State vs. Michigan, but defensive line wants to make impact

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State is tied for ninth nationally in sacks with 36, but the Buckeyes might have a hard time getting to Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara on Saturday.

The Wolverines have allowed only nine sacks, tied for fourth-fewest in the country.

Ohio State had only two sacks last week against Michigan State, but its defensive line put pressure on Payton Thorne, harassing him into a 14-for-36 passing performance.

If McNamara does what many opposing quarterbacks have done this year — release the ball quickly to avert sacks — Ohio State linemen will try to do what they did last week. The Buckeyes batted down four Thorne passes at the line of scrimmage.

Ohio State's Zach Harrison batted down two Payton Thorne passes last week against Michigan State. He and the Buckeyes will look for more of the same against Michigan.

“One of our goals is to affect the quarterback and that's something that we always have in the D-line room,” defensive end Zach Harrison said. “We emphasized it last week. If you can't get home, put your hand up, because coach (Larry Johnson) says a batted pass is the same as a sack almost. It's losing a down for the offense, and they’re behind the chains.”

Harrison batted down two passes last week. Tyreke Smith and Tyleik Williams had the others.

Craig Young gives boost

Michigan’s game plan Saturday is likely to rely on running the ball. That could mean a significant role for OSU's Craig Young for a second straight week.

Young is listed as a safety, but at 6-3 and 223 pounds can also play as a quasi-linebacker. Ohio State is thin at linebacker, and Cody Simon left the Michigan State game early with an injury. Coach Ryan Day said he didn’t believe Simon’s injury was long-term, but it’s unclear whether he'll play Saturday.

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Last week, Young played 26 snaps, a season-high for the sophomore. He played a total of 25 the previous four weeks. Young had three tackles against the Spartans.

“Craig's a little bit bigger and gives us a little bit more in the run game based on some of the personnel that we're getting, so it's week-in, week-out, based on what we're seeing," Day said.

“He's had a great attitude all year. Because of that, he's playing late in the season for us, and he's a very important part of our defense. He has worked really, really hard. So here we are in some of our biggest games, and he's out there.”

Scary rivalry debut for Ryan Day

Day reminisced about his OSU-Michigan rivalry debut in 2017 when the drama began before the game began.

Day was in his first year as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and co-coordinator during J.T. Barrett’s senior season.

“I thought I'd seen a lot of games, and before we even kick the ball off, they told me that J.T. took a shot in his knee and he may not be able to play,” Day said. “I knew at that point, we were in scramble mode.”

Barrett had been hit in the knee with a large camera. He tried to gut it out, but backup Dwayne Haskins replaced him in the second half and led Ohio State to a comeback victory. Afterward, coach Urban Meyer was incensed about the Barrett injury and vowed to get to the bottom of it. No culprit was ever identified.

Buckeyes No. 2 in CFP rankings

Ohio State jumped Alabama and Oregon to the No. 2 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night.

CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta described the Buckeyes’ 56-7 victory over then-No. 7 Michigan as “incredible.”

"The dominating win over Michigan State certainly got the committee's attention,” Barta said.

Alabama struggled to outlast Arkansas 42-35. Utah rolled over Oregon 38-7.

Cincinnati moved up to No. 4, setting up a potential CFP semifinal matchup if the Buckeyes and Bearcats win the next two weeks and No. 1 Georgia beats Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game.

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Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.