Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
As the old football saying goes, “defense wins championships,” and while Ohio State’s defense might not currently be championship-caliber, it improved against Purdue.
Purdue scored 22 points against the Buckeyes Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The defense was only responsible for 13 points as one of the Boilermakers touchdowns came on a 100-yard kickoff return.
The 13 points were the least OSU’s defense has allowed since the nine points the Alabama-Birmingham team scored on Sept. 22.
“I feel like we played decent, there’s always room for improvement each and every week, I feel like. There was probably about three or four plays that we let go that we wish would’ve had back,” said junior defensive back Christian Bryant.
Following the game against Indiana, no one on the Buckeye defense earned what the coaches call a “champions grade.” First-year OSU coach Urban Meyer took a more active role in the defense and challenged the group to perform better.
This week, seven players were recognized for their play, including Bryant, senior cornerback Travis Howard, senior defensive lineman John Simon, redshirt senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams, redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby, junior defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins and sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Meyer said he was “much more pleased with the defense.”
The OSU defense has shown marked improvement after the Buckeyes’ offense commits turnovers.
In eight games, OSU’s offense has turned over the ball to its opponents 13 times. From those turnovers, the defense has given up a total of 13 points - two field goals and one touchdown.
Miami (Fla.) also has 13 turnovers this season but its defense has allowed twice as many points after turning the ball over with 26 points.
Against Purdue, the Buckeyes’ turned the ball over a season-high four times but held the Boilermakers to zero points off those turnovers.
“We’re challenged defensively, obviously from the Indiana game, to play better and I think the guys accepted the challenge. Part of accepting that challenge is preparing better and I think our guys prepared better,” said co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. “I think they understood what we were getting from Purdue and I think they executed well.”
Perhaps the most important stop came after redshirt junior quarterback Kenny Guiton was intercepted by sophomore safety Landon Feicther with 2:40 left in the game and the Buckeyes down, 22-14.
“I don’t think there was any point in that game, even when we were down, that our kids didn’t think we were going to get the ball back to our offense and we were going to score,” Withers said.
OSU’s defense did not let Purdue’s offense gain the game-clinching first down on three straight plays and forced a punt, leading to the 61-yard game-tying drive.
When the overtime period came and the Buckeye offense scored a touchdown, the defense did their part. They kept Purdue’s senior quarterback Caleb TerBush’s four straight pass attempts out of the end zone and sealed the win for OSU.
“Our coach put a lot on our shoulders and he expected a lot from us. So coming out and just finishing the game in that manner was a great feeling and definitely a confidence booster,” said senior cornerback Travis Howard.