A potentially overlooked aspect of Ohio State’s victory in the College Football Playoff was the performance of the Buckeyes’ defense.
That unit allowed an average of just 18.3 points against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game.
It was the defense that held the Badgers scoreless and forced Alabama quarterback Blake Sims into throwing three interceptions. Against the Ducks on Jan. 12, it was the defense that held the high powered Oregon offense to just 20 points.
An early step to getting back at that level was OSU’s Spring Game on Saturday. The Gray team, led by redshirt-junior quarterback Cardale Jones, defeated Scarlet, 17-14, in the annual intrasquad scrimmage.
Coach Urban Meyer said postgame that at times it was “not a very pleasant scrimmage.”
He did, however, acknowledge that a few individuals stuck out to him as having a good day.
Among the standouts Meyer mentioned was defensive lineman Sam Hubbard was one of them.
The redshirt-freshman had four tackles, including two sacks, as a member of Gray. Meyer said Hubbard will “be in the rotation” next fall.
Hubbard has changed positions often since arriving in Columbus last year. Initially expected to play linebacker, he spent time at tight end as well before moving to the defensive line.
With all uncertainty, it has taken some time for Hubbard to get comfortable, he said. But now that he is, Hubbard said he believes he is ready to go.
“I’ve got an opportunity to really contribute,” he said. “Whenever my name is called, I’ll be ready to go, contribute, and make plays whenever I can.”
Additionally, Hubbard credited defensive line coach Larry Johnson for his improvement. Hubbard said Johnson welcomed him “with open arms.”
Along with Hubbard, Meyer said redshirt-sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley stood out throughout the spring.
“Conley is penciled in now,” Meyer said. “We’re going to make the call to the family and say your son earned a right to start at Ohio State.”
While Hubbard and Conley played well and impressed Meyer, the game’s leading tackler was freshman linebacker Nick Conner. Conner, an early enrollee from Dublin, Ohio, had seven tackles, and an interception, as well as a forced fumble.
“He was good. We had high expectations for him, though,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he hopes Conner does not redshirt in the fall so he can get “involved in the kicking game.”
The Buckeyes are set to kick off their regular season Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va., against Virginia Tech.