There was no denying just how good the front seven looked as the defense posted a 50-44 win that belies the dominating nature of the (now former) white shirts. In case anyone wasn’t sure after watching the first 104 plays of the scrimmage, the defense made one final stand as the offense was given a final play from inside the 20-yard line, but Todd Boeckman was unable to get a pass off as he was smothered by a host of players to set off hoots and hollers on the defense’s sideline.
It was an effort that brought smiles to the faces of the defensive players as they met with the media after the event.
“I feel like at times especially early in the game that we were really playing dominating football,” said cornerback Donald Washington, who made two interceptions. “They got a couple breaks where we kind of got on our heels a little bit but we regained our composure, brought it all back together and we finished in the end, and that’s what’s most important.”
The breaks Washington was referring to were a number of drives the offense was able to start in the defense’s territory as part of the coaching staff’s wish to simulate all types of game situations as well as provide a bit of gamesmanship. The short field was granted to the offense after the defense took an early lead of 31-8, something linebacker Marcus Freeman did not see as a coincidence.
“That’s something with Coach (Jim) Tressel: You know he’s going to do whatever he can to make the game close no matter how much we’re leading by so you just have to be prepared for that,” Freeman said.
That the defense did, allowing the offense five field goal attempts and one touchdown on the drives, but many of the field goal tries came after the offense went three-and-out after starting at the 30. The offense was also denied on a fourth down deep in the defense’s territory.
The strong play was just a continuation of what started early in the scrimmage. The first drive of the game ended when Boeckman’s third-down pass went off the hands of a diving Ray Small and into the arms of Washington. A drive later, Robby Schoenhoft tossed a pass that Albert Dukes snatched – for a moment. An instant after the ball arrived, so did Ryan Lukens, and the hit sent the ball fluttering through the air into the hands of Austin Spitler.
On the next possession, Schoenhoft’s laser was picked off by Grant Schwartz, making the defense 3 for 3 when it came to causing turnovers.
“That’s the only way you get to win this game is to have turnovers,” Freeman said. “That’s the only way to get a lot of points. It’s something we concentrate on every time we come out here.”
A number of the offensive gaffes could be placed on a refurbished defensive line that did not look as though it has lost three starters and four seniors from a year ago, even if it was going against an offensive front that was missing starters Kirk Barton and Steve Rehring, reserves Jon Skinner and Kyle Mitchum and tight end Jake Ballard. Players like Lawrence Wilson, Vernon Gholston and Dexter Larimore made a living in the backfield and provided a pass rush that held the quarterbacks to a combined 16 of 45.
The defense constantly brought blitzes and made at least four sacks, including three of Antonio Henton, one of which ended with a fumble recovered by the offense. Added onto the stuff of Boeckman on the final play, the defense made things miserable for the offensive unit from the start, which gave the group self-assurance.
“It was very important because I think it gave us a lot of confidence,” Washington said of the defense’s large early lead. “We were in attack mode the whole time. We weren’t really on our heels or trying to come back. We were playing aggressively and we were playing smart and we were all playing together.”
Washington added his second interception near the end of the scrimmage by picking off Schoenhoft and nearly picked off the Cincinnati native on a deep post for a third. Afterward, the sophomore corner was also quick the credit the defensive line for the four picks, something the defensive line took pride in.
“Our coaches emphasize affecting the quarterbacks and that was what we were trying to do all day,” Wilson said. “We know our DBs are going to cover so we’re just trying to get there in a couple seconds and that was what happened. If we force them to make bad throws, we get picks.”
So now with the scarlet jerseys back on the defense after an eight-day switch, what is left for the defense to do after gaining offseason bragging rights? It’s simple, Freeman said.
“We want to go out there Tuesday and have the best practice we’ve had all spring,” the junior linebacker said.