Ohio State redshirt freshman Nick Bosa, redshirt sophomore Sam Hubbard, junior Jalyn Holmes and redshirt junior Tyquan Lewis were all on the field for the final play of OSU’s 30-23 overtime victory at No. 8 Wisconsin. The four defensive ends collectively known as the Rushmen looked at each other and decided, as a unit, the game was on them.
At the snap of the ball, Lewis, Holmes and Bosa bull-rushed Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook and sacked him to end the game before he had a second to get rid of the ball. Lewis was credited with the sack.
Hubbard said the message from defensive line coach Larry Johnson has been very clear. The Rushmen mantra is “R2X,” meaning rush to the “X,” with “X” being the quarterback. Johnson even has the three-letter adage in his Twitter handle.
“You can see on that last play all four of us were at the ‘X’ like we’re supposed to be. That’s what we do,” Hubbard said on Monday.
Long before overtime was in the realm of possibility, the Buckeyes found themselves down 16-6 at half and had allowed 313 yards in the first half, including 170 on the ground, on defense. Both surpassed OSU’s average per game. Coach Urban Meyer came into the locker room and said he was looking to tear into his players.
However, the score could have been much worse.
The Rushmen kept the score tight early in the game, with multiple third-down stops earlier in the game for OSU.
On the first drive of the game, Bosa sacked Hornibrook to halt the drive at the OSU 21-yard line and forced a field goal. In the second quarter, after a 28-yard run by Wisconsin redshirt junior Jazz Peavy that put the Badgers at midfield, Hubbard sacked Hornibrook to end the drive. Then, right before the half, when the Badgers had first-and-goal from the five yard line, the Rushmen got into the backfield, forcing errant throws from Hornibrook and stopped the Wisconsin offense from leading by more than just 16-6 at halftime.
“It’s a party to the quarterback,” Holmes said. “It’s a race, whoever gets there first. We just celebrate when we get there. We just get to show our talent and speed. We can play anywhere on that defensive line.”
The Rushmen are a large reason as to why OSU ranks first in the country in red zone defense at 62.5 percent. When the OSU defense can suppress chunk plays and get its opponent to third or fourth down, the four men across from the ball often deliver to get redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and the offense back on the field.
Holmes said coach Johnson deserves much of the credit for the success of the unit. He said the sky is the limit for the group.
“We pride ourselves on not letting them score so we just put it all out there and we play together as a unit,” Holmes said.
Meyer said during Monday’s media availability that attitude isn’t adjusted by any speech any of the coaches make, whether it be at halftime, before or during a game. He said that the units on the team build that trust in the offseason, and no group trusts one another more than the Rushmen.
“The best I’ve heard is when Larry Johnson and his guys get together. That’s a brotherhood. That’s why they play hard now,” he said. “That’s not something that’s said at halftime. It’s something that’s been in progress really since you walk foot on campus.”
Holmes, Lewis and Hubbard have spent at least three years in the program, but Bosa has been the player that has been a catalyst for the Rushmen. Only a year removed from surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament, Bosa has been moving along slowly under the regimen of Johnson to ensure no further injury. The freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has primarily been on the field for pass-rushing purposes, giving the interior defensive linemen the chance to stop the run and Bosa the opportunity to stay fresh; something that paid off in the end for he and the Buckeyes.
“Coach J told us that it was going to have to be a heart win,” Bosa said after the game. “That’s what he preached all week and we pulled it from our heart and came through.”
Each of the four Rushmen registered a sack against Wisconsin, marking a team-high four sacks in a game this season for the Silver Bullets. Making it more impressive, each sack came at a time of need for OSU. The Rushmen have been a notably dominant force all season, but when the lights were the brightest, they stole the show.
“As we have more success, the brotherhood is going to be stronger and stronger … This does nothing but help us,” co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said after the game. “I don’t know if there’s a guy out there that thought they played their best game they could’ve, but they know they fought together, climbed together and it makes them realize they need one another.”