Football: Defensive line finding balance amid sack competition

The Lantern
Ohio State graduate defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (92) celebrates with teammates during the Ohio-State-Indiana game on Oct. 23. Ohio State won 54-7. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Since the start of the season, No. 5 Ohio State’s defensive tackles and ends have been engaged in a competition to see which unit can corral the most sacks by season’s end.

Thus far, the defensive tackles lead the friendly wager, racking up 14 sacks compared to the defensive ends’ nine. Despite the contest heating up, senior defensive end Tyreke Smith said the two units work together in their pursuit of the quarterback.

“It’s never like you’re looking at it like, ‘Ah dang, he got a sack and I didn’t.’ A lot of the time, we’re all working together,” Smith said. “When someone gets a sack or someone gets a tackle, we’re all happy. We all feel like we got the tackle.”

The defensive tackles jumped out to a 11-2 lead after Ohio State’s Week 5 52-13 win over Rutgers, but the defensive ends have crawled back in recent weeks.

The Buckeyes’ balance up front was most evident in their recent win over Indiana, with both the ends and tackles picking 2.5 sacks each. Not only was the sack distribution evenly spread throughout the units, but the five sacks by Ohio State were dispersed among six players.

With attention to the group’s production, Smith said it is important for the entire defense to see that balance up front.

“I think the way we’re going right now, everyone having an even slate of stats. I think that’s good. It shows that everybody is excelling and everybody is not staying stagnant,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to do our part in what we can do to win the game.”

Not only did the Buckeyes get to Indiana’s revolving door at quarterback, but they bottled up the Hoosiers’ committee of running backs as well.

Ohio State stuffed the Hoosiers for 14 tackles-for-loss — eight of which were produced by the defensive line. Junior defensive end Zach Harrison led the Buckeyes in this department, collecting two tackles-for-loss against the Hoosiers.

As the Buckeyes’ front stifled the Hoosiers passing and rushing attacks, graduate defensive tackle Haskell Garrett said the unit was more proud of racking up a high number of tackles for loss than their sack total.

“The sacks come, but with tackles for losses it’s just stopping the run and playing the ball in the backfield,” Garrett said.

Ohio State’s balance up front goes beyond just its playstyle. The Buckeyes have utilized a mixture of talented youth and experienced veterans on the defensive line and have seen both age groups contribute.

Leading the youth movement on the defensive line is the three-headed monster of freshmen defensive ends J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer alongside defensive tackle Tyleik Williams. Garrett, Smith, Harrison and graduate defensive tackle Jerron Cage give the Buckeyes’ a veteran presence up front.

Head coach Ryan Day said the varying age range on the defensive front has proved to be valuable to the unit’s success.

“We’re getting some of the older guys back, which is good. They’re starting to really show up, which is great. The younger guys, who kind of early on had to play, forced into some roles. Now there’s some real depth there,” Day said. “That room is coming around. You can see some energy there, you see them with good pad level and now they’re producing as well.”

As the season presses on, the Buckeyes’ defensive line is also one of the more healthy units on the team. Smith’s return from an injury against the Hoosiers, which held him out for four weeks, brought the group back to relative health.

Heading into their stretch run, Garrett said the health in the unit will be key for the team going forward.

With three games against ranked opponents nearing, Garrett emphasized that the group has solidified their balance through experience of playing with one another.

“We’re playing with confidence and we’re having fun playing with each other,” Garrett said. “It’s been special to watch how we’ve evolved as a defense and really grown that chemistry with each other.”

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