TCU seemed to view Ohio State junior Nick Bosa as the life and breath of the Ohio State defensive line.
Recording five tackles against the Horned Frogs, including a strip sack recovered by redshirt junior defensive tackle Davon Hamilton in the end zone for a defensive touchdown, Bosa left the game in the third quarter with what acting head coach Ryan Day called a groin and abdominal injury. He did not return to the game.
In Bosa’s absence, redshirt junior Dre’Mont Jones said the Horned Frogs’ offensive front began to talk.
“They were just standing on the field like, ‘They are going to quit, it’s over now,’” Jones said. “We knew the truth. We are not afraid of a challenge.”
Jones said the defensive line just brushed the comments off and played like the unit knows how to play: with confidence.
In the second half, the Buckeyes allowed three yards per rush after allowing 7.8 yards per rush in the first half, and scored the unit’s second touchdown of the day, a 28-yard interception by Jones on a shovel pass from TCU sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson.
Bosa will be sidelined again when Ohio State takes on Tulane on Saturday. But that doesn’t mean the Ohio State defensive line will lose that swagger, that confidence it showed in the second half against the Horned Frogs.
“Really, it’s our motto every day. Competitive excellence, so the next man has to step up,” Hamilton said. “We love to have Nick, obviously, because he really is that good, but reality is, we have to step up. Someone has to step up.”
Junior Jonathon Cooper said he’s the one who’s going to step up.
With high expectations coming into the 2018 season, another player that thrives in defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s acclaimed rotation, Cooper has not found the statistical production that was expected of him. He has only five tackles in the first three games, including one sack.
However, in the opinion of defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, the production will improve with more playing time.
“The production, maybe not so big, but he’s really played and done his job well,” Schiano said. “I think with more opportunities that’ll lead to more production.”
Schiano also said sophomore defensive end Chase Young, who has recorded two sacks and one pass break-up this season, will have a more prominent role on the line against the Green Wave.
The absence of Bosa might open the door for younger players to take some in-game snaps, including freshman Tyreke Smith, who Jones said will likely be a part of Ohio State’s nickel package on Saturday along with him, Young and Cooper.
Jones said Smith brings a consistent motor as a freshman defensive end and had a consistent drive to succeed. But, as with any freshman, the redshirt junior defensive tackle said he does “normal freshman things,” saying he has to be smarter as his college career continues.
However, Jones said Smith’s improvement will continue over time.
“He’ll learn as the games go on,” Jones said. “The whole point of the season is growing.”
Smith is part of a defensive line where, in Hamilton’s opinion, he would not be here if he was not talented. But the expectation for the group stays the same without the defensive end many consider as the best player in college football.
Even without Bosa, Cooper thinks there is a reputation to uphold.
“We watch defensive lines across the nation, see how they’re doing and stuff, we see how, like, their pass rushing, their stopping the run and stuff like that and we try to raise our game, just to show that we are the best,” Cooper said. “We’re confident in ourselves that we are the best.”
Players like Young, Cooper, Jones and Smith are going to try and combine to match the production that Bosa brings every Saturday. That does not mean the expectation is for one of them to step up and become a replication of what the preseason All-American has done this year.
“Nick Bosa is Nick Bosa,” Cooper said. “He’s always going to be Nick Bosa.”