COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took three plays for Ohio State to serve notice: Saturday was not the night to play the Buckeyes.
The message came from a fitting but dormant messenger. Ohio State scored four defensive touchdowns in its first three games but hadn’t yet registered one in five conference matchups. On the third play from scrimmage against Nebraska, that drought came to an emphatic end. Junior safety Damon Webb returned a Tommy Armstrong pass 36 yards for a score, weaving his way through traffic to find the end zone.
His score ignited Ohio Stadium and kicked off a 62-3 rout by the No. 6 Buckeyes against then-N0. 10 Nebraska.
“Great momentum start,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said.
Here’s how it happened.
It was third and 3, and the Buckeyes didn’t go to their four-DE package on the defensive line. Instead, they only used three defensive linemen — ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis and tackle Dre’mont Jones. Hubbard attempted to beat his man on the outside, and a quick throwing lane opened up for Armstrong.
Armstrong decided to throw before he ever saw linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who read him perfectly. McMillan drifted into the opening and positioned himself directly between Armstrong and his intended target.
McMillan does just enough to be able to extend and deflect Armstrong’s pass. Almost instantly, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and receiver Stanley Morgan arrive. Both crash onto the ball and pop it up.
Webb was perfectly positioned to snag the second tip. He does exactly what the Buckeyes are coached to do and heads straight for the sideline. McMillan makes a huge block, as does safety Malik Hooker. As Webb closes in on the touchdown, he gets one last assist from Hubbard — although he also made the would-be tackler miss — and reaches paydirt.
The score culminated a beautiful display of Ohio State’s defensive prowess. The defensive line forced a quick throw with only three rushers. McMillan perfectly closed out a passing lane and made a great play to tip it. Lattimore covered Morgan perfectly and gave his teammates a chance to make a play on the ball. Webb was in the right position to make the play that McMillan and Lattimore set up. He followed the team’s plan for an interception return, and his teammates blocked it well along the way.
“That was a great start to the game,” Hubbard said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better start defensively. Our leader on defense, Raekwon, made a play and we rallied around it. We got good blocks for Damon and got back out there and played more defense.”