Buckeyes' defense filled gaps all season

NEW ORLEANS -- Solomon Thomas' bowl-clinching interception marked a fitting end to the season for Ohio State's defense.

Few units in the Big Ten endured more challenges with personnel than the Buckeyes' defense, and each time, someone answered the bell.

Ohio State remained a top-10 pass defense despite losing several players, including nickel safety Tyler Moeller, to season ending-injuries. The Buckeyes didn't miss a step after losing senior linebacker Ross Homan to a foot injury for several weeks in the middle of the season.

More challenges arrived Tuesday night against Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

All-Big Ten cornerback Chimdi Chekwa left the field late in the first quarter with a serious elbow injury sustained after a gorgeous pass breakup. Ohio State also lost No. 3 cornerback Travis Howard (cramps) and All-Big Ten safety Jermale Hines (toe) for stretches. Freshman defensive back Christian Bryant saw his first action since Oct. 16, while No. 5 cornerback Dominic Clarke recorded three tackles in the win.

And then there was Thomas, a reserve in Ohio State's defensive line rotation who recorded his first interception at any level to seal the 31-26 victory.

"We had a ton of guys out of there," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It was nice to get the win and some of those young guys had to play. Dominic Clarke had to play. It was good."

Safety Orhian Johnson told me Sunday that Ohio State lives by a simply philosophy on defense: When you're in the game, you're considered a starter.

The Buckeyes' reserves performed like starters all season, and the team's defensive depth is quite possibly the biggest reason it won 12 games.