NORMAN, Okla. — For the first three minutes of its game against Oklahoma, the Ohio State defense looked, well, basic.
The Sooners received the opening kickoff and marched downfield with ease, going 10 plays and 65 yards without facing a third down. The Buckeyes didn’t force a third down until the 11th play of the drive, with Oklahoma just 10 yards from the end zone, but their defensive personnel on that play finally gave the defense a stop.
With Oklahoma facing third-and-9, the Buckeyes used four defensive ends in its Rushmen package — just the second time they’ve done so this season — with Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa all lined up in the trenches.
Hubbard immediately broke free and flushed out Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, and the other defensive ends soon joined him in the backfield. The pass rush forced an incompletion that led to a field goal attempt that the Sooners missed. Suddenly, Oklahoma went from putting the Buckeyes on their heels to walking away with no points.
The package may not have even been used this week were it not for the improvement of the true freshman Bosa, whom Hubbard said showed over the past week that he was good enough to be out there against the nation’s No. 14 team.
“We did that this week because Nicky Bosa had a good week of practice and he can help us in the pass rush,” he said. “He did a great job on the inside. He’s a strong guy who can get great push, so that’s going to be the Rushmen package going forward.
“He’s just been progressing so nicely. He’s doing really well and progressing and picking up the defensive fundamentals, and we can use him.”
Ohio State used it again on its second defensive series with Oklahoma facing third-and-10 deep in its own territory. Once again, the defensive line forced a quick throw out of Mayfield that led to an incompletion and stalled the drive.
The Buckeyes spoke all week about how critical it was to get off to a good start, and the four defensive ends package helped the defense get off the field after some early struggles.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the improvement of Bosa — a 5-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the class of 2016 — who only adds to Ohio State’s already impressive depth at that position.
“It’s a lot of speed on the field,” Lewis said. “We can do a lot of things out of that. You’ve got four guys who can get after the passer. We just all come together and we know what we have to do to get the defense off the field.”