After the season opener against Oregon State, his first game as Ohio State’s acting head coach, Ryan Day said, “anytime you do something for a second time, it becomes easier.”
Having just allowed 31 points to the Beavers, getting beat on screens and runs to the outside, junior defensive tackle Robert Landers made clear that what Day said applied to the defensive line room as well.
On the first play of the game, Landers easily moved past the middle of the Rutgers’ offensive line, tackling sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear as soon as he touched the ball for the first time for a 3-yard loss.
For redshirt junior Dre’Mont Jones, the defensive tackle starting alongside Landers, that was the moment where he felt the expectation to succeed increased dramatically.
“Not only are we competing against other teams, we are competing against each other,” Jones said. “So when he makes a play, it’s like, alright, we all got to go now. Now it’s my turn to make a play.”
Landers set the tone for the defensive line against Rutgers. Yet he was not the one who was being talked about when the game was over.
Those players are who defensive coordinator Greg Schiano refer to as the “bookends” of the defensive line, junior end Nick Bosa and sophomore end Chase Young.
“They are hard to handle,” Schiano said. “They are playing at a high level.”
Coming into his second career game, freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski had an idea of what pressure was, being sacked once in his collegiate debut against Texas State last week. However, with both Bosa and Young on either side of the Ohio State defensive line, Sitkowski saw quickly what consistent pressure in the backfield felt like.
In the final drive of the Scarlet Knights’ first half, Young burst through the offensive line, sacking Sitkowski for an 8-yard loss. After jarring the ball loose from the quarterback’s hands after the play was ruled dead, Young, full of emotion, spiked the ball. Flags came flying and the sophomore defensive end was awarded his first of two unsportsmanlike penalties on the day.
Ejected in the fourth quarter after the second penalty, Schiano said Young has to make sure his emotions, which the defensive coordinator loves, are kept in check at times.
“In a tight ballgame, it would have been a shame to lose Chase. He understands,” Schiano said. “He’s a young guy, but he plays with great emotion and he plays, he’s a really good player. He’s really hard to block.”
After the Young sack, it was Bosa’s turn. In what turned out to be the final play of the half, the junior defensive end sacked Sitkowski for a 10-yard loss, ending his day at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights.
“Sometimes, I turn into a fan,” Landers said. “Especially that third down, watching him hit the quarterback, it’s like wow. It makes the game fun for me.”
Even with the competition at defensive line, Landers said the members of the unit build off each other, saying regardless of who makes a play, the excitement, the energy is created and sets the tone for the defensive line as a whole.
With the defensive line performing at a high level as a collective unit, Ohio State allowed only 65 passing yards, with Rutgers quarterbacks completing 36.7 percent of passes with two interceptions. In the first half, when the majority of the starters were in the game, Ohio State allowed seven rushing yards on 14 carries.
Schiano said that individual members can sense there is an opportunity to perform, which individual members like Bosa and Young did. However, striving for individual stats is not the overall goal of the defensive line.
Landers said the goal is the same as the goal for the rest of the team: to be the best in the country.
“I feel that from week to week, we are trying to put ourselves in the proper positions to where we can achieve that,” Landers said. “I feel like we are making the strides we need to make. We are getting there.”