Resurgence of the linebacker

Nick McWilliams, Staff Writer
Buckeye Grove
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Scott Stuart - Buckeye Grove

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State's linebackers were a mess againstOklahoma, and the final stat line showed it. The Buckeyes allowed Baker Mayfield to pick apart their defense on underneath passing, while giving up 104 yards to the Sooners on the ground.

Against Maryland, however, there is a new attitude and playing style in the middle of the Ohio State defense. The Terrapins were limited to 66 total offensive yards, and only scored on a garbage-time touchdown on a Javon Leake carry.

Max Bortenschlager, the team's leading passer, went 3-for-12 for 16 yards. That's good enough for a 0.1 rating according to ESPN's QBR. On the ground, the Terrapins had just 50 yards on 42 carries — which accounts for the eight carry, -43 yard day for Bortenschlager, who was sacked five times.

The revival has been headed by both Jerome Baker and Dante Booker, who have been playing a much different style of football lately. That different style of play all started with a conversation between Baker and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.

"I talked to coach Schiano after the Oklahoma game, and he asked me what's going on and how can we improve," Baker said after the game. "I told him, 'Sometimes guys settle down. Simple is better.' We definitely worked on that for a reason. As you can see the results (are) coming in."

That so-called "simple" change has lead to a defense that has completely demoralized opposing offenses. Somehow, after completely shutting down any semblance of offense Rutgers had, the Buckeyes limited the Terrapins to even fewer yards.

Booker said these performances are exactly what Ohio State has been aiming for. He especially appreciated the fact his defense allowed just 66 total yards.

"That's some crazy numbers, but that's what you strive for," he said. "You strive to be dominant. Suffocating."

With the absence of Chris Worley, Tuf Borland has stepped up well along with Baker and Booker. Against Maryland, the trio had a combined 10 total tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and the touchdown by Baker.

Baker gave all the credit for his touchdown to Nick Bosa, who had the strip sack to lead to his touchdown.

"Just doing my job, and outta nowhere I just seen Nick Bosa doing what Nick Bosa do and seen the ball, scooped it up, and ran as fast as I can," Baker said.

This sudden burst in energy for the linebacking unit of Ohio State is paying big dividends, and has helped lessen some of the burden the defensive line.

Even with the results vastly improving week in and week out, Booker said things are still not quite where Ohio State wants them.

"We're close. You can't say we've arrived yet," Booker said. "We've still got a long way to go. This feels like this is where we should be."

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