Defensive football is the key to winning championships at the collegiate level, and the play of Ohio State’s linebackers has led to extensive success by the Silver Bullets. OSU currently sits fourth in the nation in terms of total yards given up while averaging just 12.3 points allowed per game.
With junior Raekwon McMillan in the middle and leading the way, the linebacking unit for the Buckeyes has limited opponents rushing attacks while also preventing short passes. This Saturday against Rutgers, however, the group will be rolling out a new look, similar to the secondary and the defensive line.
Junior weakside linebacker Dante Booker missed extensive time against Bowling Green after suffering an MCL sprain early in the first half against the Falcons. The injury kept Booker out of the game against both Tulsa and Oklahoma, and paved the way for sophomore Jerome Baker to break into the starting lineup.
Baker has performed well in his replacement role, totaling 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception returned 68 yards for a touchdown. Receiving praise from McMillan and standing out on defense is a good way to make a name for yourself with the Buckeyes, but he will be sharing the limelight against the Scarlet Knights.
The release of the weekly depth chart from OSU revealed the duo would be splitting snaps for this week.
“We’re going to need them all. (Dante) is probable now for this game and we’re going to need (him) — this is a long season,” Meyer said at Monday’s press conference. “So I see (Dante) getting involved immediately when he comes back.”
Before leaving the game against Bowling Green, Booker recorded two tackles. In his career, the graduate of St. Vincent – St. Mary High School has played in 23 games and recorded 31 tackles.
Baker played scarcely last season for the Buckeyes, totaling four total tackles. A former running back in high school, Baker has earned the respect of the coaching staff as well as veteran members of the team.
Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley expressed his feelings towards the play of Baker Monday when asked about the sophomore.
“We all knew Jerome could play,” Worley said.
Baker is listed as the backup to Worley, along with sharing the primary weakside linebacker position with Booker. The third-string weakside linebacker, redshirt freshman Justin Hilliard, was lost for the season earlier this week to a torn left bicep.
The two Ohio natives bring opposite styles of play to the game. Booker, a much larger player, is known more for his ability to stand up the run at the line of scrimmage, and bring down the ball carrier with hard hits. Baker, who is somewhat undersized for the position, uses a mixture of speed and strength to locate the ball.
Although Booker has technically lost the starting role, Meyer said the move might not be permanent, and Booker is in a good place to earn his way back into the primary spot. But, nothing will come easy.
“You get the benefit of the doubt, but you got to — at Ohio State there’s a bunch of good players around here so, but you certainly get the benefit of the doubt,” Meyer said. “But there’s no rule.”
The pair of weakside linebackers will get the chance to prove themselves against Rutgers this Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium.