The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team’s success thus far has been bolstered by a strong defense. For a win this weekend in University Park, Pennsylvania, that production will have to be consistent.
On Sunday, the No. 5 Buckeyes (9-1) will take on No. 3 Penn State (9-0) in a clash of team strengths. OSU heads into the contest with the No. 3 scoring defense in the NCAA, averaging 7.20 goals given up per game. In contrast, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 4 in scoring offense, averaging 15.33 goals scored per game.
The Buckeyes have faced stiff competition all year, but they must regroup after suffering their first setback of the season in a 12-7 loss to Notre Dame. It was the second time this season in which the Buckeye defense had given up double-digit goals in a game.
Penn State is one of the toughest challenges for the stellar Buckeye defense. Freshman attack Mac O’Keefe leads the way with 34 goals on the season, and he dictates how the PSU offense flows.
OSU coach Nick Myers has taken notice of his team’s opponent, and the Nittany Lions offense is a focal point.
“You’re immediately drawn to the fact that they have been able to generate offense in a number of ways,” he said. “They have a very skilled attack and are very well-coached.”
From a player’s perspective, it comes down to what they have on their own sideline and the trust they have with their teammates to continue to play well defensively.
“They have threats on offense and we know that, but we like our guys,” said Tom Carey, OSU’s redshirt senior starting goalie. “We want to do our best to put their shooters in spots that we want and give up the looks we want.”
Like Carey mentioned, the Buckeyes have supreme faith in whoever is tasked at stopping the Penn State offense. The team wants to force the issue using its style of play to limit them to very few chances at scoring opportunities. With that being said, the goalie position has stepped up and contributed while using a rotation between Carey and junior Matthew Smidt.
With rotations at a position in any sport, there can be concerns about inconsistent play. For the OSU defense, they have been an exception and have excelled with the duo. Both Carey and Smidt have kept their goals against average within Myers’ acceptable range, and they exert their upperclassman leadership whenever they enter a game.
As for this weekend, Myers has his eyes set on who will lead the team onto the field in the Big Ten opener.
“Tom (Carey) is our starting goalie and will start on Sunday night, and I think we need to do a really good job of supporting him,” Myers said.
He said the duo is able to step in at any point due to the chemistry between them.
“At the end of the day we’re great friends, and that (competition) comes with the territory of playing goalie,” he said. “It’s definitely clear that the coaching staff trusts both of us. Whichever one it is (on the field), we’re confident in the team in front of us.”
Whether the team sticks to a rotation this weekend remains to be seen, but the team believes it will be prepared for whatever Myers chooses based on the flow of the game.
Opening faceoff is set for 7 p.m. Sunday.