COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Playing without Joey Bosa for an entire game isn’t something Ohio State wants to try again any time soon, and his suspension certainly wasn't considered positive for the program.
But the Buckeyes had been trying for more than two years to find a way to get their star defensive end a bit more time on the sideline and cut down on his heavy workload, and a week without him might have been the perfect way to do it.
Ohio State had all of training camp to prepare for his absence, and it had no shortage of talented but inexperienced options on hand jockeying for the chance to fill in for Bosa But along the way, the Buckeyes found they had a couple options with the ability to slide into his spot on at least a short-term basis even when Bosa is around, which is what they’ve been searching for as they plan to keep keep him fresher and more productive in his part of the rotation.
“A year ago, he probably [averaged] 72 plays, down from 90 the year before I got there,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “Some games he played 85, 90 plays, which is a lot of football. To play at maximum speed, I think that's tough to do.
“I think for Joey, the max is probably 60 to 65 plays to play at his best.”
Of course, for the Buckeyes to reach their potential defensively, that number has to be much higher than the zero Bosa logged in the season opener while serving his sentence for a violation of team rules. That misstep clearly still disappointed him even after he returned in Saturday’s shutout win over Hawaii and addressed it publicly for the first time, and he apologized to teammates for “letting them down.”
But more than motivating him to come back stronger and become a better leader, the true silver lining of Bosa's week off figures to show up as the season progresses. If Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes continue to prove capable of producing up front, the Buckeyes won’t have to rely on Bosa for nearly as many reps -- which should leave more fuel for when he is on the field unleashing his freakish athleticism.
“Obviously missing a week sucks, not because you’re missing it, but because you’re not out there with your guys and letting them down,” Bosa said. “I just tried to help as much as I could without actually being out there and playing. Being there for Sam and Jalyn and molding them into the role, it was hard but it’s over and now I’m back and it’s exciting.
“It’s really nice to have a good rotation at end, because I really haven’t had that since I’ve been here. Out there playing 80 plays, it’s nice to have some good ends to come in there.”
The Buckeyes have arguably the best defensive end in the nation back in the fold now, and based on the early returns from the fresh faces up front, Bosa might not be the only devastating pass-rusher on the roster.
Lewis, Holmes and Hubbard all have sacks already. Holmes has forced a fumble, Hubbard has recovered one and Lewis has shown a relentless motor with two tackles for a loss. And while their early success isn’t going to leave Bosa fearing for his job, it does leave him in an early hole with some ground to make up statistically.
“We’re not just going to put guys in because we say we’re a going to roll eight people, we’re not going to put guys in there just because we get up a few points,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “We’re going to put guys in that deserve to be in there, and that’s the beautiful thing about it. At that position, those guys have earned the opportunity to get in there.
“You hate to say it was because of somebody else’s fault, but it has given them an opportunity to do some things.”
In turn, that might lead to even bigger things for a fresher, more ferocious Bosa.