COLUMBUS, Ohio – A year ago, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, after a monster, 13.5 sack sophomore season, was struggling to hit the quarterback. After three games, the eventual third pick in the 2016 NFL Draft had recorded just one half of a quarterback sack as a junior.
Bosa, in his typical nonchalant style, didn’t seem bothered by the lack of tangible statistics, though fans clamored for more.
“Stats don’t really matter as long as we’re out there playing well,” Bosa said in October 2015. “I am going out there every week to do my job the best as I possibly can to free up other guys, and then just play well as a defense.”
Fast forward to October 2016 and the drumbeats are similar.
This time though, the clamoring from Ohio State fans is for Bosa’s replacement, Sam Hubbard, to be the one dominating from the defensive end position. Through five games, Hubbard has 1.5 sacks, which places him third among the Buckeyes stout defensive unit, but for some, that seems underwhelming.
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As a redshirt freshman last season, Hubbard’s 6.5 sacks were the second most on the team, finishing ahead of Bosa’s five. Because of that, the expectations for Hubbard, as one of only a handful of defenders returning to Ohio State’s roster with any significant playing time, skyrocketed. It may be that those expectations, perhaps higher than they should have been, that has people believing the 6-foot-5, 266-pound Hubbard is struggling to make an impact on the defense. Like his mentor Bosa, Hubbard isn’t fretting.
“I don’t really spend too much time thinking about it as long as I am playing at a high level and doing my job,” Hubbard said. “I’m just focusing on going hard for my unit and getting better each week.”
Bosa’s lessons from a year ago have stuck with the redshirt sophomore.
“I watched Joey struggle with the same thing all last year,” he added. “I’m not going to think about it too much because I don’t want it to bring me down. I’m just going to keep after the quarterback and keep making plays. If I get sacks, I get sacks. I’m just going to do what I am coached to do.”
As for why he’s missing those sacks he recorded a year ago? The Cincinnati-native gave what was, essentially, an vocal impression of the Bosa Shrug.
“I don’t know why,” Hubbard said. “Every time I get there, he’s just getting ready to throw the ball.”
Not getting sacks on the quarterback doesn’t mean that Hubbard isn’t helping the Buckeyes top five defense. He’s pressuring the quarterback. He’s causing mayhem that leads to other players stepping up and making big plays along the defensive line and on the back half of the defense in the secondary. Tyquan Lewis, comparing Hubbard’s situation to Bosa’s, said that the sack numbers don’t matter, what matters is the effort and energy they bring to the field.
“Sam is Sam. He always has the ability to flip his hips and give a great rush. Joey was Joey,” Lewis said. “Those guys, they work on that and that’s what they’re good at.”
Dre’Mont Jones, who leads Ohio State’s defensive linemen with 15 tackles, agreed, saying Hubbard’s impact is felt on the entire defensive line even it’s not translating to quarterback sacks, but eventually it will.
“It’s his leadership, honestly,” Jones said of Hubbard’s influence among Larry Johnson’s group. “Sam’s a strong leader. He’s going to get there, I’m sure he doesn’t have the sacks he did last year, but he’s going to get there. He’s a great pass rusher and he’s so close. We’ve all been close and he’s making an impact.”