The Ohio State defense was facing a third down and nine on the Oklahoma’s first drive on Sept. 17. Sooners’ quarterback Baker Mayfield led his team down to the OSU 11, on the verge of putting the Buckeyes in a quick 7-0 hole.
Junior defensive end Jalyn Holmes stormed into the backfield and flushed Mayfield out of the pocket, forcing an incomplete pass which led to a missed field goal and no points on the board for Oklahoma.
At the time, OSU was fortunate to leave the field with no points allowed. But two drives later, Holmes again rushed the backfield and tipped a pass thrown by Mayfield. The deflected pass landed into the paws of sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker, who returned the ball 68 yards to take a 14-0 lead.
In the offseason, defensive line coach Larry Johnson asked Holmes if he wanted to be a part of the “rushmen” package, wherein a group of defensive lineman often sent out on crucial downs to sack or put pressure on the quarterback. Holmes’ response was a resounding “yes.”
“I just wanted to be a part of that,” Holmes said. “If he told me to go play center, I was going to go play center.”
Holmes, freshman defensive lineman Nick Bosa, redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard and redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis are often the four bruisers on the rushmen package. Thus far in 2016, the disruption in the backfield has paid dividends for the opportunistic “Silver Bullets.”
OSU has accumulated nine interceptions already this year, four of which have been returned for a score. Co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s “sideline return” play has been put into action several times through the first three games, and it has yielded plenty of success. Redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker said that the impressive numbers from the secondary thus far often overshadows the impact the “rushmen” have on the defense.
“They make our job way easier. They get in there and cause the quarterback to panic which lets him wing something up there and allows us to make plays,” Hooker said. “Without them, most of the interceptions … they wouldn’t be happening. If I had the money to, I would take them out to eat.”
Holmes came into Columbus as a four-star, top-100 recruit. He registered 21 sacks and 59 tackles for loss combined in his junior and senior seasons of high school. Since donning the scarlet and gray on Saturdays, he has played in all but four games for coach Urban Meyer. Holmes had just 11 tackles in 2015 with 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack, but has already racked up nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack in the 2016 campaign.
When thinking about the OSU defensive line, he’s not the first name that comes to mind. Starters Hubbard and Lewis, who led the defense in sacks a season ago, are the stars of the defensive line. However, Holmes is a player opposing Big Ten offenses have to account for. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 274 pounds, Holmes showcases top-end speed for a player of his size.
“The rotation (on the defensive line) … we just move so fast as a unit,” Lewis said. “It’s like a wave of guys. It’s just all so fast, everybody on the D-line.”
Listed as a co-starter with Hubbard, Holmes is not confined to one position. Periodically throughout a game, he rotates to nearly every spot on the defensive line. One play he may be at defensive end, the next he could be at tackle. The loss of redshirt junior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle in the Bowling Green game put the defensive line depth in question. Since then, Holmes has been a catalyst on the defensive line.
Holmes said that being on the two-deep at defensive end for over a year now has affected him a couple times, but he knows there’s more than the individual.
“I’d be lying if I said that it never let it cross my head,” Holmes said. “I play with good teammates and they’re always encouraging me and I want to see the best for my teammates.”