Defense gets a mulligan

After disaster on first play, Ohio State shows improvement in victory over Purdue

Updated: October 21, 2012, 1:44 PM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The same old problems popped right back up.

After spending a full week analyzing what had gone wrong defensively and vowing to return to its traditional ways on defense, it took exactly one play for Ohio State's recurring issues to reappear.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Greg Bartram/US PresswirePurdue's Akeem Shavers is swarmed by Ohio State's Christian Bryant (2), John Simon (54) and Ryan Shazier (10) on Saturday.
The pass rush couldn't quite get home, the coverage broke down, and Purdue sprinted into the end zone and out to an early lead after just one snap on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The bright side for the Buckeyes, though, was that they knew there were plenty more chances to erase that painful early memory if they could simply move on and focus on the next opportunity -- and for the most part, the next 68 downs looked much more like what they wanted in a thrilling 29-22 overtime win that required two late defensive stands.

"Obviously it's kind of difficult to start that way," nose tackle Garrett Goebel said. "But you just have to stay positive and keep your head up because it's just one play. There are going to be a lot more of them in the game.

"I think that we learned from last week. If they do get a play, stay together. I felt like on the sideline, none of our guys got down and we rose up to the challenge -- the next play is most important."

The Buckeyes didn't execute them all perfectly, but after getting burned just after kickoff, they shut down the Boilermakers far more often than not and turned in one of their most fundamentally sound performances of the season.

Purdue tacked on a second offensive touchdown with a long, efficient drive in the third quarter that gave it a lead that looked like it might hold up after Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was knocked out of the game, slowing down an already sputtering attack and stretching the odds of a successful comeback even further. But the defense kept giving backup Kenny Guiton a chance to pull it off by getting the Boilermakers offense off the field, most notably with the clock ticking to under three minutes with the Buckeyes needing to force a three-and-out while they burned their final timeout.

After the heroics of Guiton on the ensuing possession to force overtime and another touchdown drive to start it, a beleaguered unit needed to focus on just four more plays to keep the hopes of an unbeaten season alive -- and one at a time, they got them all to launch a wild celebration when the last pass of the game fell harmlessly incomplete.

"We weren't really concerned [with the start] -- that happens," defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "We know it's about the next play, and we had tons of energy, tons of juice, and we knew we were going to go out there and stop them.

"It's all just going out there and doing our job. With that one big play, stuff happens and you just have to go forward. I feel like we're doing a good job, and big plays, we're going to limit those."

The need to cut them down will only get more pressing heading into the second half of Big Ten play, especially with a tough test looming on the road Saturday against Penn State and an offense that is averaging more than 400 yards per game.

And in typical Ohio State fashion, it's already looking ahead to the first snap against the Nittany Lions instead of back at the game-clincher against the Boilermakers.

"We just can't get down on ourselves," defensive end Nathan Williams said. "A lot of Buckeye Nation has been upset with the way our defense has been playing this year. And you know what, we were upset as well.

"That kind of stuff doesn't sit well with us."

Neither did the way the Buckeyes started on Saturday. But they moved on from that quickly, moving closer to a perfect season in the process.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter