COLUMBUS — When Ohio State installed FieldTurf in Ohio Stadium before the season began, officials said it would take a full season of play to get the synthetic grass to feel the way it should.
That season’s nearing completion and if anyone needs an opinion on how the turf feels, they need look no farther than Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan.
“I think he’s one of the toughest kids in the Big Ten,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “I’m sure he’s a little bit sore, now.”
The Buckeyes sacked Donovan a season-high 10 times during Saturday’s 38-17 victory. The onslaught was led by junior defensive lineman Vernon Gholston, who finished with a school record-tying four sacks. The feat was also accomplished by Bobby Carpenter vs. Michigan State in 2005 and Jason Simmons vs. Washington State in 1991.
“It’s never about me, it’s always about the team,” Gholston said. “I just go out there and do the best I can pass rushing, and the guys back there cover me and we work together.”
While Gholston is one of the defense’s big names, the player that everyone thinks of when discussing the Buckeyes defense is junior linebacker James Laurinaitis, who won the Nagursky Award as the nation’s top defensive player last season. Laurinaitis also had a career day against Wisconsin, finishing with 19 tackles, a pair of tackles-for-loss, a sack and a recovered fumble.
The 19 tackles topped Laurinaitis’ previous mark of 15, which he accomplished in last season’s national championship loss to the Florida Gators.
“The defense did good, we all did good,” the
6-foot-3, 240-pound Laurinaitis said. “I think our team was poised and just kept going and that’s something you can take out of it.”
Donovan took bumps and bruises out of it. The senior could only manage a few words about the Buckeyes defense after the mauling he took on the field.
“There is definitely a reason why they are No. 1,” he said. “They have speed, strength — everything.”
Joining the sack party was Doug Worthington, Larry Grant, Nadar Abdallah, Thaddeus Gibson and Todd Denlinger ,- all of whom had a sack each. Gibson’s sack caused Donovan to fumble.
Anderson Russell, who finished second to Laurinaitis with eight tackles, added a tackle-for-loss, and Dexter Larimore finished with a tackle-for-loss and recovered Donovan’s fumble.
“We really haven’t had that kind of pressure before,” Gholston said. “I guess it was kind of a nice coming-out game for the defensive line.”
The Ohio State defense was able to tee off on Donovan due to the Badgers’ lack of a running game. Wisconsin lost sophomore star P.J. Hill, who is 15th in the nation with 1,066 yards, to an injury in the Badgers’ win over Indiana last week, and were without the services of backup Lance Smith, who is only allowed to play in home games as part of a suspension handed down because of an altercation with his girlfriend.
That gave freshman Zach Brown his first career start and made freshman Quincy Landingham the Badgers’ backup. Brown rushed 20 times for 71 yards — a 3.2 yards-per-carry average — and Landingham never got into the game.
“For the most part we thought they’d come in and try to run the ball,” Gholston said. “We thought Hill would be playing, but obviously he didn’t. So that put them in a passing situation and we just tried to rush the ball.”
The results were decidedly in favor of the Buckeyes, but it could have been much worse for Donovan and the Badgers.
“I wouldn’t say I got in a zone,” Gholston said with a laugh. “If I got in a zone I would have had a sack on every play.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137