Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
Late in the fourth quarter Saturday, Johnathan Hankins sacked California senior quarterback Zach Maynard for a 10-yard loss, and proceeded to celebrate in the backfield.
It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill celebration, though.
Hankins yelled a little bit louder, jumped a little bit higher, and probably was a little bit more satisfied than he usually is after pummeling a quarterback into the ground.
The Ohio State junior defensive tackle had a good reason to be over the top with his behind-the-line-of-scrimmage dance, after all. The sack was the first of the season for Hankins, and the sixth of the game for a Buckeye defense that struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks during the first two games of the season.
Every day leading up to Saturday’s game, Hankins said he and his teammates on the OSU defensive line kept hearing about the lack of hits they were putting on the quarterback. They heard it from the media, from OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, and from OSU first-year coach Urban Meyer.
So after the Buckeyes’ 35-28 victory against the Golden Bears, Hankins struggled to put his thoughts on the success of OSU’s front four into words. When asked about his team’s sack total, Hankins smiled wide, let out a sigh of relief, and stated simply, “It’s good, it’s good.”
For a defensive line that boasts a preseason All-American in senior defensive end John Simon, a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft in Hankins, and numerous highly recruited talents, Saturday’s sack total had been long-awaited since the season began.
Against Miami (Ohio) and Central Florida, OSU got to the quarterback just three times combined. This week in practice, Hankins said putting pressure on the quarterback was emphasized above everything else.
“There was definitely a focus, coach (Vrabel) challenged us to hit the quarterback, and I feel like we did that pretty well,” Hankins said.
There were no new schemes put in place for the defensive line during those practices, however. OSU did blitz more Saturday than they did against Miami and Central Florida, which resulted in a sack apiece from redshirt sophomore defensive back Bradley Roby, redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino and sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The sacks totaled by the OSU defensive line, though, resulted purely from effort, Hankins said.
“In practice we just focused on getting off the ball, and I feel like with coach Vrabel staying on us, I feel like we got off the ball,” Hankins said.
While the Buckeyes’ front four was more successful at getting after the quarterback Saturday, for the third-straight game, the unit failed to put a complete performance together.
They put hits on the quarterback, but California’s running backs ran freely for most of the game. The Golden Bears had 512 yards of offense, 224 of which came on the ground. California sophomore tailback Brendan Bigelow had 160 yards rushing on four carries, including an 81-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter, the longest run ever by a visiting team in Ohio Stadium.
Senior defensive end Nathan Williams, who returned to action Saturday after missing the Central Florida game with soreness, said the California offense had the OSU defense guessing all game long.
“They ran a great offense and kept us on our toes. The way the game evolved was just the way the game evolved. We just have to roll with the punches and adapt from what they go with, and I think we did that towards the end,” Williams said.
A lot of California’s success on the ground can be attributed to OSU missing tackles, which is something Williams said surprised him.
“I noticed when I was out there, I would get to a guy, and it looked like we had him wrapped up, and he’d just bounce away. I don’t know why that is, I’ve never seen that before since I’ve been here,” Williams said.
As good as OSU’s defense was at hitting California’s quarterback Saturday, the yardage it gave up strikes higher in Meyer’s mind. If Meyer has his way, the OSU defensive line will, eventually, put a complete performance together in the coming weeks.
“Obviously when I see a team that ran for that many yards and as many poor tackles as we had, we had other issues on top of that, pressuring the quarterback. We’ve got to get it corrected and I’m going to find out.”
OSU will be back in action against Alabama Birmingham on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium.