When Urban Meyer was able to land Larry Johnson as his defensive line coach in 2014, it was considered a key hire after Johnson’s long and successful run as an DL coach at Penn State.
To borrow a line from the movie Christmas Vacation, it is a gift that keeps on giving for the Buckeyes. Johnson has developed his position room into a pipeline to the NFL. Nick and Joey Bosa and Chase Young are three of his most prized former pupils and there have been many more.
But one of the big question marks for Ohio State this season was if Johnson could again work his magic after the defensive line was jolted by graduation, including the losses of Chase Young, DaVon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and Robert Landers.
Without a Bosa or a Chase Young, many wondered if the Buckeyes would be able to generate a dynamic pass rush, which has become the staple of a Johnson-led defensive line. After a solid but not flashy performance in the season-opener against Nebraska, Ohio State’s defensive line made a major statement in last Saturday’s win over Penn State.
The Buckeyes’ line came up with five sacks and hurried PSU quarterback Sean Clifford all night. The OSU front absolutely dominated the Nittany Lions in the first half, with the defensive linemen coming up with 17 of the team’s 33 total tackles in the half.
Jonathon Cooper, who has been with the Buckeyes for five years but has yet to reach the high expectations he brought with him after he was a five-star recruit at Gahanna Lincoln in suburban Columbus, enjoyed a breakout showing against the Nittany Lions.
Cooper had five tackles and half a sack in the first half alone. Cooper is helping replace Young.
On the other side of Cooper, it has been a committee of ends filling the spot. Tyler Friday, Zach Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptiste also took turns making plays Saturday.
“I feel like our defensive end group is one of the best in the country, if not the best,” said Cooper after the Penn State game.
The big star of the night, though, was sophomore defensive tackle Tommy Togiai. He was an absolute wrecking ball in the middle of the line, piling up three sacks to tie for the seventh-most in a single game in OSU history. He had a total of seven tackles, a huge amount for an interior players. A native of Idaho, Togiai was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school and is looking like the player many expected he would be.
Hamilton was one of the unsung heroes of the Ohio State defense last year. While he didn’t get as much publicity as guys like Young, Jeffrey Okudah and Jordan Fuller, he was a main cog on the interior of the defensive line. He had six sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for loss. Togiai was tasked with replacing Hamilton has so far, has exceeded expectations.’
“(Hamilton) got seven to eight sacks from the nose guard position and that’s tough to do when you get double teamed,” Johnson told reporters before the season. “Tommy has the same kind of skills. He is powerful, he is strong, he is athletic.”
Haskell Garrett followed his standout season-opening effort with another solid game against Penn State. Garrett is only two months removed from being shot in the face during an incident close to campus.
Togiai and Garrett look like they can be a forceful pair inside for the Buckeyes this season.
“I think they’re amazing,” said Cooper of Garrett and Togiai. “I think they have been playing the best football of their careers. Just with their effort, how focused they are. They’ve been doing great.”
In all, it was an extremely promising showing for the Buckeyes’ defensive line.
“I just feel like we had a great game as a defensive line, just coming together I feel like we worked and we prepared for this in the offseason,” said Cooper.