Ohio State’s defensive line came into the first game of the 2018 season considered one of the best units in the nation.
Rotating in players like junior Nick Bosa, sophomore Chase Young, junior Jonathon Cooper and redshirt junior Dre’Mont Jones, the defensive line is known across the country for its aggressiveness and speed up front, getting to the opponent’s backfield before a play can even develop.
However, for a unit known to be aggressive, a relentlessness to get in the backfield at all costs, the Oregon State offense seemed to read that well at some points in the first game of the season.
When defensive ends like Young or Bosa crashed, seemingly trapping redshirt sophomore quarterback Conor Blount in the backfield, he would throw it softly outside with blockers preparing for a screen.
Even on plays when the defensive line had to defend the run, once junior running back Artavis Pierce broke free from the defensive line, he was off, recording two touchdowns of more than 75 yards.
The Beaver offense, despite being rushed by what many consider one of the best position groups in the country, might have found a weak spot.
“All you can really think is how crazy coach [Greg] Schiano is going to be this week of practice,” Bosa said after the game. “All the fundamental things, getting those issues fixed.”
For Cooper, he views the screen plays Oregon State ran as a compliment to Ohio State’s success up front, not giving the quarterback a proper amount of time to find a player deep or beat the defense as a whole vertically.
Regardless if he considers it a compliment, Jones looks at their success as something that needs to be fixed.
“We just have to be smarter,” Jones said Tuesday. “We can’t just slide the field. We have to be attentive to the fact that teams can screen on us because we are so fast.”
Speed is the most important aspect of Ohio State’s success up front. Cooper said it’s in the mantra every lineman lives by.
“It’s a race to the quarterback,” Cooper said. “Me, Nick and Chase, I mean, it’s a race to the quarterback, whoever can get there. You get there as fast as you can.”
Oregon State saw that aspect of the line as well. Ohio State recorded six tackles-for-loss, including five sacks and three quarterback hits.
Cooper said there was still something missing despite the amount of disruptions made in the backfield.
“We were, kind of, just angry about it,” Cooper said. “We know we can get better and do better from there and realize we can do a lot better.”
As Ohio State prepares for its first Big Ten game of the season against Rutgers, Cooper said the focus of the defensive line, as a whole, is to continue running to the ball, but reading screens and trusting his teammates around him to get their job done.
In terms of preparing for defending screens as a line, Jones said it’s still a work in progress, but, with the amount of talent on the line, he still believes no one can match the talent of the Ohio State defensive line.
“We definitely set the tone,” Jones said. “We came out, got after them. We showed everybody we can play. That’s all we needed to do.”