EAST LANSING, Mich. — The moment was going to come. The Ohio State coaching staff was sure of it.
With Michigan State starting five offensive drives within their 20-yard line, redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said the coaching staff was in the ears of the Ohio State defensive line, saying “We are going to create a turnover. We are going to create a turnover.”
Jones has had his moment before.
In Ohio State’s 40-28 win over TCU on Sept. 15, Jones got in front of a shovel pass from sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson, running 28 yards for the score.
But the Ohio State coaching staff said the defense was going to create another turnover, a turnover that would define the Buckeyes’ performance in East Lansing.
With the Spartans pinned against their own two-yard line, redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke dropped back, looking to pass and dropped the ball. The veteran defensive tackle pounced on the ball, securing his second touchdown of the season.
This touchdown gave Ohio State confidence, a confidence that would lead the defense to allow six points and 274 yards of offense in a 26-6 win against No. 18 Michigan State.
In a game where the Ohio State offense struggled to find consistency against a Michigan State defense with a reputation, in a game where the Ohio State special teams unit consistently pinned the Spartans into difficult situations, giving Ohio State the advantage defensively, the Buckeyes came out with confidence.
“A game like this where we held that team to only six points, and a talented team in their house, only six points, it’s a tremendous, tremendous feeling. It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Jones said.
Other than one 47-yard rush by redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi, the Ohio State rush defense, with the No. 1 rush defense in the country watching, allowed seven yards rushing on 17 carries.
Despite only recording two tackles for loss, one by redshirt sophomore linebacker Tuf Borland and one shared by sophomore linebacker Malik Harrison and junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper, the Ohio State defensive line showed pressure in the passing game. The Buckeyes recorded six quarterback hits on Saturday, three coming from sophomore defensive end Chase Young.
Cooper said this time of year, the time of the football season provides this needed pressure to succeed. He said the matchup with Michigan State is always physical and tough.
But Jones viewed it as something bigger. An opportunity to prove a larger message.
“Whether we like it or not, we hear the stuff in the background we don’t want to hear, but it happens. This was a big momentum for us,” Jones said. “We came out there, we played with swag and a lot of enthusiasm.”
The Michigan State performance also shows improvement from performances over the past few weeks. After missing 15 tackles against Purdue and 20 against Nebraska, sophomore safety Brendon White said the focus in the week leading up to the Michigan State game was on tackling drills, becoming more physical in a game where the unit knew it was necessary.
Cooper said, with the combination of the practices leading up to Ohio State’s game in East Lansing and the performance of the team, he has confidence in what the unit has been working on.
“We have confidence in that everything we have been doing since the beginning of the season, it’s going to work,” Cooper said. “We have been practicing hard, we’ve been going hard and even though everybody kind of like telling us to do this or do that, we just stuck with the plan and it pays off, as you can see.”
Leading up to Saturday’s game against Michigan State, Ohio State sophomore linebacker Pete Werner said this game needed to be an “impact game” for the defense, an opportunity to show the country what the Ohio State defense can do.
Cooper felt the performance against the Spartans was that game. But it’s still not where Ohio State, as a unit, strives to be.
“I feel like we still haven’t played our best game,” Cooper said. “We still have so much more to show, so much more to work on and improve on and we will get better week by week and that’s just the main focus.”
Head coach Urban Meyer did not need perfection. He needed momentum, he needed confidence for a unit that was vital to the life of this time.
In his opinion, he got it.
“That’s confidence man,” Meyer said. “We talk about an outfit that needed it, we needed it.”