Football, and many other sports, are often about taking your chances. When the situation gives a team an opportunity to influence an outcome, it has to make the most of it.
When the Ohio State defense had a chance to help change momentum on Saturday, it took it.
With the Buckeyes down six to Indiana late in the third quarter, OSU sophomore punter Cameron Johnston pinned the Hoosiers at their own one-yard line.
A crowd that was otherwise frozen and uninspired by its team’s play was suddenly brought to life. Indiana freshman quarterback Zander Diamont threw incompletions on first and second down before junior running back Tevin Coleman was stopped after only three yards.
The next play was arguably the biggest of the game, as OSU redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall returned the Indiana punt 54 yards for a touchdown, and the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-0) never looked back as they defeated the Hoosiers (3-8, 0-7), 42-27.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said Johnston’s punt and the subsequent defensive stop were just what the team — and the fans — needed to come alive.
“Watching a punter just place the ball with no help from his guys running downfield, just place the ball on the one-yard line, it’s gonna get the crowd jacked up, it’s gonna get the defense jacked up, (and) the punt team was excited,” Bennett said after the game. “So I think that was a huge momentum swing for us.”
The momentous series didn’t look like it would be necessary when the Buckeyes took a 14-point lead less than seven minutes into the contest. But the game’s tone changed quickly. Diamont broke through the OSU defense and scampered for 53 yards down to the Buckeye two-yard line. One play later, Coleman scored to cut the lead in half.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer said the way things began didn’t help the Buckeyes and their partisan crowd remain engaged in the job at hand, as Indiana began to crawl back.
“Sometimes in college football, things don’t go exactly as scripted,” Meyer said. “And (we) kind of went out, jumped out to a 14-0 lead and the stadium was dead.”
Three turnovers followed on each of the Buckeyes’ next three possessions as the Hoosiers got within one at halftime behind two field goals. Just like the week before against Minnesota, the Buckeyes led at halftime but didn’t finish the first two quarters in particularly inspiring fashion. Against the Golden Gophers, Bennett stood up and made a halftime speech to the team — particularly the defense — and the Buckeyes responded in clinching a 31-24 win. This week, however, Bennett said the same action wasn’t required.
“I didn’t think there was a real need to say too much at halftime. We came out in the first half, I thought we shut down the run really well except for a couple big runs,” he said. “They didn’t really throw it for that much on us. There wasn’t really anything to say except, ‘keep playing the way you’re playing, offense is going to get it together,’ which is what they ended up doing. You don’t have to panic when it’s not time to panic, and that wasn’t a time to get all riled up.”
The time to get “riled up” might have been midway through the third quarter. Indiana began its drive at its own 10-yard line, and Coleman wasted no time in hitting a hole to his left side to go all the way to the end zone for a score. All of a sudden, the underdog Hoosiers had the lead, 20-14.
Redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee said the play simply came down to blown assignments.
“Like I’ve said all year: assignment football,” Lee said. “One 90-yard run, we didn’t get leverage on the ball, and if you don’t have leverage on defense it’s a wrap.”
The very next drive for the Buckeyes ended in punt formation. But that’s where Johnston came in, floating the ball to the perfect spot, and setting up the Buckeyes’ key sequence.
After Marshall’s first score he found himself in the end zone three more times, and fans and players in Scarlet and Gray could rest easy. Coleman did, however, run for another long score — this time for 52 yards — on one of the game’s final plays.
Coleman wound up running for 228 yards and three touchdowns on the day. OSU sophomore safety Vonn Bell said the team knew coming in how explosive the running back could be, but that regardless of the big plays he had, the defense still did what it need to.
“Yeah he’s a good back. Very explosive, like they said. Get him out in the open field, he could break one. Exactly what the scouting report said and he did his job so he’s a good back, hats him to him and that coaching staff,” Bell said. “(But) we got the job done at the end of the day. We did alright.”
Part of the reason OSU limited Coleman to only a few big plays was the play of junior linebacker Joshua Perry. The Galena, Ohio, native led OSU in almost all major defensive categories: total tackles (14), solo tackles (7), sacks (2) and tackles for loss (3).
Bell said Perry, who has tied for the most total tackles on the team in six games this season, is central to what the defense tries to do.
“He’s very important. He’s a leader, he leads by actions. He’s very vocal on the field,” Bell said. “He’s a real big fit for us, he’s very important guy, we look up to him as a big brother, so he’s very impactful.”
Now as attention turns to OSU’s biggest rival, the Michigan Wolverines, Bennett said he’s already excited for the seven days ahead.
“I can’t wait for next week. We’re not looking at playoffs or Big Ten championship coming into this week, it’s all about that team up north.”
Bennett and the Buckeyes are scheduled to host the Wolverines on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium.