Ohio State's defense didn't play great, but played well enough in the 21-10 win over Penn State.
The Buckeyes allowed 246 yards of total offense (177 rushing, 69 passing) and made two huge plays in the first half to give all the momentum to the home team.
On the opening drive of the game, Ohio State cornerback Ashton Youboty intercepted PSU quarterback Michael Robinson deep in OSU territory to end a scoring threat.
Then, after Ted Ginn gave the Buckeyes' a 7-0 lead on a punt return touchdown, safety Tyler Everett came up with his biggest play of the year. Everett stepped in front of a screen pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 OSU lead.
"I think their receiver thought I was going to hit him," Everett said. "He dove for the ball and the ball was a little high and it just hit me right in the hands and I just got it."
Everett had a good idea of what play was coming from the Nittany Lions.
"We knew their tendencies, so when they got in that formation and had that receiver out there, we kind of knew what to expect," he said. "I just read it and broke on it. It felt great. On that play, we were in nickel and I was the nickelback. The star guy. My responsibility is re-route and get to the flat and once I saw the guy on the flat coming in, I knew it had to be the jailbreak screen, so I just broke on it.
"Every week we talk about scoring on defense and special teams. Ted ran a punt back and I scored, so with the offense only being on the field three plays and us being up 14 points, that was good for us. Defense played well and special teams also."
But Everett was just one of many standouts on the day for the Buckeyes.
Youboty had three breakups to go along with his interception and seems to be getting more comfortable and confident each time out.
Outside linebacker A.J. Hawk led the team in tackles with 13 (4 solo). Middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel was second with 10 tackles (7 solo) and led OSU with 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
On the defensive line, tackles Quinn Pitcock and Marcus Green each turned in solid performances. They were able to apply pressure up the middle all day. Green finished with eight tackles (3 solo), while Pitcock had six stops (4 solo) and a sack.
As for Hawk, he now has a team-leading 101 tackles on the season. No, his name isn't on the Butkus Award just yet, but he seems to be one of the frontrunners for the honor.
What's great about Hawk, however, is that he doesn't care. It's not just lip service. He really doesn't care about personal accolades.
"Oh, I don't even think about stuff like that," Hawk said. "If it happens, that would be great because it probably means we finished the season strong as a team. But I don't put any stock in that right now."
After the Bucks took the early 14-0 lead, it looked like the game was headed for a blowout. But the Nittany Lions were able to string some decent drives together. They ran a lot of quarterback draws with Robinson – who finished the day with 20 carries for 58 yards.
Tailback Tony Hunt was their leading rusher with 20 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown.
"Yeah, they picked up some rushing yards on us and we can't let that happen," Hawk said. "We never want to give up more than 100 to a team and we did today."
But even though the Nittany Lions stayed in the game, it never felt like they were a true threat to win the game. The Buckeyes always seemed to answer the call when a big play was needed.
Cornerback Dustin Fox said a big key for the Buckeyes' defense was just keeping things simple. They wanted to get back to basics and were only concerned about carrying out their assignments.
"I think the game plan for us was pretty simple today," Fox said. "We didn't want to do a whole lot. We played pretty much one or two coverages the whole game. We ran some stunts; we were pretty aggressive. But it was really simple. One of the more simple game plans we had since I've been here. It was pretty successful to a certain extent. But, like I keep harping on, we didn't stop the run and that's what we usually pride ourselves on here. So, as a player, you can't go home too happy about the win. I mean, it's great to get a win, but when the run the ball on you, it's not that great."
When Schlegel decided to transfer to OSU from the Air Force Academy, Buckeyes fans thought they were getting a guy with a mean streak that would plug the middle. The first few games of this season, Schlegel struggled. But now everyone is seeing exactly what he can do.
"The thing today was just getting in the flow," Schlegel said. "Getting in the flow of the game is key for any player. Over the past couple games, I've been able to get in the flow of the game and when you're in there you can get tendencies and get some confidence. I've been able to do that and make some plays. It's everybody on the defense really flying to the ball."
Schlegel says he's doing less thinking and more reacting – exactly what a good middle linebacker does.
"Definitely," he said. "When you're playing and you get into the flow of the game and get comfortable, it's big and I've been able to do that the past couple of games"
Schlegel thought the Buckeyes played an "average" game defensively against Penn State.
"I thought we played better defensively in the second half," he said. "Not as well as we want, but I thought we came out and were able to slow down their running game."
Schlegel is a confident player and believes OSU can run the table from here out.
"That's the goal," he said. "After we lost those three games, we all said it was now a five game season. We're 2-0 right now and it's just getting that confidence back and we've just got to keep it rolling. We've got to go on the road and the way great teams show they're great is by going on the road and beating great teams and that's what we're going to have to do."
Penn State had the edge in time of possession (32:44 to 27:16) but that was a meaningless statistic on this day. When you're getting special teams and defensive touchdowns, no one is concerned about time of possession.
"If we're on the field all game, but we're scoring, who cares? I don't mind being on the field a lot when everything's clicking," Schlegel said. "Time of possession wasn't a big deal for us today because we clicked in other areas."
Schlegel said that Everett's touchdown was the kind of play that can turn a season around.
"Tyler Everett, whoo, that was sick," he said. "I don't really know what to say about the play except it was awesome. That was great just because it was something we hadn't done. To get that turnover and take it to the house was just one of the things that we needed to do. That's one of those plays that you're going to look back on if we're able to run the table from here out and finish the season strong."
Everett actually began the season as a starter at strong safety, then was backing up Donte Whitner, and is now starting again due to an injury to Whitner. But it might be difficult keeping Everett out of the lineup now.
"You have to be happy about that," Everett said. "I came here to play. I didn't come here to sit on the bench. So, every opportunity I get to play makes me happy."
Free safety Nate Salley went down with what looked like a shoulder stinger. In case he can't go next week, Everett could shift to free safety and Whitner could play strong (if healthy). Or Everett could stay at strong and Whitner could play free.
"It's pretty much interchangeable – I can play either one – but most of the time I'm at strong," Everett said.
For a change, the Buckeyes had a comfortable lead at halftime (21-7).
"Oh, that was great," Schlegel said. "(Penn State) came down at halftime and their heads were down a little bit and that's when you have to put the knife in and seal the deal."