Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis tried not to swear after the game. It wasn’t out of frustration, but disbelief.
After all, the Buckeye defense allowed just 66 yards and six first downs, amassed five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and stymied Maryland’s all-conference-quality running back Ty Johnson for just 57 yards on 12 carries.
“That’s some great defense. That’s some great defense,” Lewis said. “I almost cussed, but that’s some great defense.”
Johnson entered Saturday’s game averaging 9.8 yards per carry and had 18 carries for 130 yards and the game-winning score the previous week against Minnesota. Excluding his 35-yard gain in the third quarter, Johnson averaged 1.8 yards per carry.
As a whole, the Ohio State defense dominated in the 62-14 win against the Terrapins Saturday, but the defensive line that was heralded as one of the best units in the country in the preseason is perhaps becoming the dominant force it was hyped up to be.
“The line of scrimmage, we just dominated,” head coach Urban Meyer said.
It wasn’t hard to tell after the first drive that it was going to be a long game for quarterback Max Bortenschlager and the Maryland offense.
The Terrapins’ signal caller became acquainted with Ohio State’s defensive line early in Saturday’s game as defensive end Nick Bosa bullied his man to reach Bortenschlager on a third-and-long and forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Jerome Baker and returned for a touchdown.
For the Ohio State offense, the first quarter consisted of long drives and a quick tempo, but was halted with the season-ending injury to offensive lineman Branden Bowen. After a fumble and a 22-yard punt, the defensive front jump-started the offense with a pair of short-yardage stops.
First, on fourth-and-3 midway through the second quarter, the line drew the attention of the Maryland offensive line and Baker came free for the sack. Six plays, 64 yards and one minute and 29 seconds later, the Buckeyes ended their three-drive scoring drought.
Facing a third-and-1 on the next Terrapins’ possession, the D-line clogged the middle, forcing Johnson to bounce the ball outside where Hubbard cut him down for a 7-yard loss.
Ohio State then rattled off two straight touchdown drives, each taking fewer than one minute to end the first half.
Maryland had just 50 yards on the ground and 16 through the air. Bortenschlager and Johnson didn’t have room to maneuver on run plays, so why not try throwing the ball more?
“The defense smothered them and stopped them,” Meyer said. “If you can screw up on offense like that, those two or three series we had and have the defense save the day, that’s part of playing great defense.”
Lewis’ only tackle was a sack; Nick Bosa had a sack, forced fumble and two tackles for loss; Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Chase Young each recorded a tackle for loss; and Jashon Cornell registered one sack.
The majority of the tackles for loss and sacks went to linebackers, with Baker and Dante Booker being the main beneficiaries. But the immeasurables of penetrating the opposing offensive line, plugging running lanes and making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket is precisely what made for a dominant defensive performance Saturday.
Lewis said the defense’s main objective against Maryland was “stop the run.” They did just that and much more.
Meyer stopped short of calling the defense championship-caliber — and that’s probably correct until proven against an offense like Penn State’s — but the impact the defensive line had Saturday is undeniable.
“We turned a new leaf,” Lewis said. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays [practices] have been very, very competitive. That’s just what it is now. It’s a new standard.”