Those who still believe that are slowly becoming the minority as the Ohio State defense is converting believers week after week. The latest in the flock - Indiana wide receiver James Hardy.
“They were on their A game today. They came out flying around and it was not easy to get the ball up the field,” he said. “In the end, they were Ohio State.”
By the end of OSU's 44-3 drubbing, Hardy was well aware of what the “new” Buckeye defense could do, especially its new poster boy, Antonio Smith. The fifth-year senior shut down the Hoosiers' best weapon to the tune of 45 yards, and led the team in tackles with 12. He also forced a fumble and recorded a sack.
Quite a remarkable performance, considering many thought it would never happen. Smith was a walk-on, who was never expected to participate, except possibly in garbage time. Yet, the cornerback has, with linebacker James Laurinaitis, become an unlikely protector of the legacy that is Ohio State's defense.
“I love watching him play,” said defensive tackle David Patterson. “You love to see a guy like this succeed.”
“He's just a special human being and you appreciate it when good things happen to good people,” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
Smith hasn't been the only success story this year. In fact, everyone wearing Scarlet and Gray seems to be writing his own chapter each week. One game it's Laurinaitis, the next, it's Quinn Pitcock, who leads the team in sacks, the week after, it's Marcus Freeman, who snagged his third interception on Saturday, the next, well, you get the picture.
“We have a lot of guys making names for themselves on defense,” said Pitcock.
A bunch of no-names at the beginning of the season, the OSU defense has made other teams stand up and take notice. The Buckeyes, who have given up only 17 points the past three games, lowered their Big 10-best scoring defense (9 ppg) again, after surrendering only an early field goal on Saturday.
And though Indiana came in with the second-worst offense in the conference (326 ypg), OSU cut that in half, giving up 165 yards of total offense.
“Ohio State's defense plays so well together. They have an excellent scheme and they execute it well,” said Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner.
That, however, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. OSU has been a top-15 defense three of the past four years. The only shock should be this - the vaunted defense the Buckeyes had a year ago, is currently being eclipsed by a bunch of no-names.
“I still believe we have the best defense in the nation.”
No, that quote didn't come from Tressel, it came from quarterback Troy Smith.
And as the leader of the offense, he might be the biggest believer of them all.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.