Ohio State not worried about missing pair of defensive tackles

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In the prime strength-on-strength battle of the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl between Notre Dame's rushing offense and Ohio State's rushing defense, the Buckeyes will show up shorthanded. They won't have the services of defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.

Washington, one of the best DTs in the Big Ten, has been suspended after he was arrested for solicitation of a prostitute in a vice-squad sting earlier this month, while Schutt is out with a broken foot.

Notre Dame ranks 25th in the nation in rushing with 214.8 yards per game, but its 5.77 yards per carry, which ranks sixth in the nation, is most notable. Running backs C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, as well as quarterback DeShone Kizer, lead a ground attack that has produced 26 plays of 20 or more yards.

The Buckeyes' run defense ranks 22nd in the nation at 127.3 yards per game and yields just 3.35 yards per carry, which ranks 13th.

Yet if a small vulnerability has occasionally been revealed in the Buckeyes' defense, it's come against rushing plays between the tackles. So this turn of events might raise an eyebrow for the Fighting Irish offense.

Not that the Buckeyes are fretting. Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, a former high school quarterback, was asked what Kizer might be thinking about when he eyeballs a pair of backups manning starting spots in the Ohio State defensive line.

“I don’t know, but if he thinks we won’t be ready to go ... I hope he wouldn’t," Lee said. "We’ll be ready. We’ve got guys coming in that have been doing well in practice.”

Those guys would be Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, Joel Hale and Tracy Sprinkle. While Hale and Hill have played extensively, they've only combined for 22 tackles, none coming for a loss. Another possible option: All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, who's more than capable of playing the three-technique inside while Sam Hubbard takes Bosa's plays at end.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell admitted that losing Washington was a significant hit but also pointed out that Schutt has been battling injuries much of the season. Hale started four games for Schutt, while Hill stepped in against Michigan.

“It’s not a wholesale change," Fickell said. "But stamina will be a question."

That's a big issue. With the Buckeyes' depth taking a hit, these backups will see their playing time double or triple from the usual 15 to 20 plays per game. That could become a significant issue, particularly in the fourth quarter, against a rugged Notre Dame offensive line.

As for the Buckeyes defenders, they didn't seem worried Monday.

“I trust my guys. Next man up," Ohio State safety Vonn Bell said. "I really believe those guys can do the job.”

Said linebacker Raekwon McMillan, “The guys behind them have got to step up and make plays. I really don’t look at who’s in front of me. I just hold them accountable as if they were the starter.”

A good answer to this issue? Keep-away.

Ohio State's rushing offense, led by Ezekiel Elliott, is potent, while the Fighting Irish run defense is not. Notre Dame is yielding 4.52 yards per rush, which ranks 78th in the country.