Ohio State defense playing at a high level with big test looming

The Illini tried that on Saturday in Champaign, Ill. They didn’t do it every time, of course, and that’s how Bosa made three tackles for a loss in a 28-3 victory. Bosa’s performance highlighted another dominant effort for the Buckeyes defense, which rose to second in the nation in scoring defense (13.8 points per game) and ninth in total defense (298.4 yards per game).

Ohio State’s offense doesn’t have to be perfect when its defense is this good. Bosa and company give the No. 3 Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) a chance to beat anyone, and their biggest test so far comes at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when No. 13 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) visits Ohio Stadium.

“The whole defense received championship honors this weekend just because of how we played on defense,” said co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash on Monday. “It’s a real testament to the way the guys bought into what we’re trying to do, the whole Silver Bullets philosophy. Overall all 11 guys, and even some of the backups, are playing at a real high level. It’s hard to point out any individual, any specific group. I just think all of us together are playing well.”

Bosa is any easy one to single out, however. He’s the star of the group. Of all the Ohio State stars, the NFL draft experts like the junior All-American from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the best.

The Illini coaches must have seen the same thing the scouts see. Bosa can’t be stopped, except by a group effort. In Big Ten play, he leads the conference with 12½ tackles for loss.

“It says a lot about what I’m doing, which is nice, anytime they’ve got to scheme to put two or more guys on me,” Bosa said. “More importantly, it’s opening up opportunities for other guys on the defense to make plays. I just try to hang in there. When it happens, I just try to focus as hard as I can to get out of it, not to get pushed back.”

The Buckeyes have held their last two opponents, Minnesota and Illinois, to a total of 53 rushing yards. They have fixed the problems they had in the Indiana, Maryland and Penn State games when they gave up 624 rushing yards. Just over a third of those yards (210) came on three big runs.

“I don’t think it’s a specific thing (we fixed),” Bosa said. “We just worked on getting better every week. We definitely have the talent on our defense. When we click, it’s something great to watch.”

Ohio State will face a Michigan State offense coming off its worst performance of the season, in terms of total yards (262). Quarterback Connor Cook didn’t play in the second half in a 24-7 victory over Maryland after injuring his shoulder but Ash expects Cook to play against the Buckeyes.

“He’s a competitor,” Ash said.

Cook threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns last season when the Buckeyes won 49-37 in East Lansing, Mich. Two years ago, Cook threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 10 Spartans upset the No. 2 Buckeyes 34-24 in the Big Ten championship.

“He’s got a very strong arm,” Ash said. “He can make all the throws. He’s athletic enough to avoid pressure. He understands their system. He understands defenses. He gets them in and out of plays. He reads coverages well. You name it, what you want in your quarterback, you pretty much see that in him.”

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