The Heisman Trophy tour will continue for Ohio State’s defense in the College Football Playoff championship game against Oregon on Monday night.
In its last three games, OSU has had to contend with the three finalists for college football’s most prestigious award.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was this year’s Heisman winner. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was the runner-up and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was third in the voting.
So far, OSU’s defense has come out ahead on the scoreboard and statistically. It limited Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries in a 59-0 win in the Big Ten championship game. And Cooper had 9 catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 42-35 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
“They are Heisman contenders because they have been running or catching all over everybody. If you’re able to shut them down, it means you had a really good defensive effort and your offense controlled the ball. It’s not a small task,” OSU defensive lineman Michael Bennett said.
“With Wisconsin – more than Alabama – we knew if we shut down Melvin Gordon, he was their offense. With Alabama, they had a lot more weapons on offense. Amari Cooper was a part of that, but I think we did a good job of shutting him down as well,” he said.
Defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks), a first-team All-American, leads OSU’s defense. With Bosa, Bennett and Adolphus Washington leading the way, the Buckeyes have been strong on the defensive line all season.
The development of young players like linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, defensive backs Vonn Bell and Eli Apple and others has given Ohio State a stronger overall defense than it had at the beginning of the season.
Oregon will be without its best defensive player, All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomo, who suffered a knee injury during a non-contact drill in practice for the Rose Bowl.
The Ducks’ defense has been on a roll recently, allowing 10, 19, 13 and 20 points in its last four games. Safety Erick Dargan (90 tackles, 7 interceptions) and outside linebacker Tony Washington (6 sacks) lead Oregon.
Oregon is 84th nationally in total defense (421.9 yards a game) but 27th in scoring defense (22.3 points a game). Ohio Stae is 17th and 26th in those categories.
The Ducks are No. 111 against the pass (265.9 yards a game) and have allowed 44 passing plays of 20 yards or more. But some of those numbers might be slightly inflated because of teams passing on every down, trying to catch up.
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones said, “I see a pretty good defense. They don’t have that one outstanding crazy guy we have to be aware of. It’s a group of guys. They run to the ball, they’re good open field tacklers and they play the ball aggressively.”