COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Joey Bosa found himself suspended for Ohio State's season opener against Virginia Tech, it left the Buckeyes with a gaping hole on their defensive line—one which head coach Urban Meyer initially thought his team wouldn't be able to fill with just one player.
After all, Bosa was a unanimous All-American in 2014, recording 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss with the type of dominant play where even numbers as impressive as those don't tell the entire tale.
In Bosa's absence, however, the defending national champions didn't merely just survive, picking up a 42-24 road win over the Hokies. Rather, what Meyer saw from his defensive line without Bosa on the field was something that caused his coaching staff to rethink its strategy and ultimately led to Ohio State's most talented defensive lineup.
As the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes have climbed out to a 8-0 start to the season, opponents have often found themselves facing crucial third downs against Ohio State, predominantly in obvious passing situations. When that's happened in recent weeks, Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson has opted to put his four best pass-rushers on the field, calling on Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard in what the OSU assistant has deemed his "rushmen" package.
But unlike other defensive end-happy lineups, this set hasn't left the Buckeyes susceptible to draw plays or other unexpected runs, with a pair of natural edge-rushers turned NFL-caliber defensive tackles in the 6'6", 275-pound Bosa and 6'4", 290-pound Washington occupying the middle.
"It gives us the ability to rush the passer and also play the run in pass situations. Sometimes teams don't always pass in obvious pass situations, so we still got enough weight in there, meat in there, to still play against the run," said Washington. "That was Coach Johnson's whole thinking going into it."
However, whether Ohio State's super sub-package was something Johnson had pre-planned or happened to fall into this season remains unclear.
According to Washington, the Buckeyes didn't practice the "rushmen" lineup at any point during the preseason and first experimented with it a few weeks following their victory against Virginia Tech. With Bosa back in action, Johnson began toying with ways to keep his one-game replacement, Hubbard, on the field after the redshirt freshman tallied four tackles, 1.5 of which came for a loss, and a sack in the team's season opener.
"We knew nothing about it [in the preseason]," Washington said "I think it was the way Sam played against Virginia Tech...I think that had a big part to do with it."
Reminiscent of the New York Giants' "NASCAR" package, Ohio State's ability to get its four best pass-rushers on the field simultaneously has helped result in a Buckeyes defense that currently ranks 22nd in the nation in third-down defense and ninth in sacks.
"I guess it speaks for itself," Washington said with a smile. "We've been doing pretty good at it."
As is the case with most unique sub-packages, the "rushmen" lineup takes some Ohio State linemen out of their natural positions, although any uncomfortableness they may feel is nothing compared to that of the opposing offensive lines who have faced it.
Nevertheless, Washington said that—for admittedly selfish reasons—the Buckeyes' pass-rush-heavy lineup isn't necessarily his favorite to take part in.
"I have to play nose guard and I just get double-teamed the whole time," he said. "But hey, I'll do it for a couple plays a game. It's all good."
Taking one for the team is nothing new for Washington, who arrived at Ohio State as a 5-star defensive end in Meyer's first recruiting class in Columbus in 2012. Following the emergence of Bosa in 2013, Washington moved inside to defensive tackle a year ago before shifting to nose guard to help free up Michael Bennett during the Buckeyes' run to the College Football Playoff.
Now, Washington's back at defensive tackle. Except, of course, for those few plays a game when he's playing nose guard, this time helping free up Bosa, who lines up next to him as a defensive tackle in the "rushmen" sets.
For his part, Bosa, who has tallied 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries this season, has no issue with moving inside. For somebody who is as consistently double-teamed as he is, it offers a unique look against opposing offenses that have often shaped their game plans around containing the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
"Especially when I get single-teamed, I like moving down to the middle," Bosa said. "Getting our best pass-rushers out there, it's fun to fly after the quarterback and pretty much have all four of us getting there at the same time."
While Washington and Bosa have done the dirty work inside, it's Lewis and Hubbard who have benefited from the attention drawn by their more experienced teammates.
For Lewis, a redshirt sophomore starting for the first time in his college career, it's helped result in a team-high 5.5 sacks on the season, despite the former 4-star prospect being the least heralded of Ohio State's fearsome pass-rushing foursome.
"When the play comes your way, you just have to make it," Lewis said. "You got a one-on-one and you want to win every time. If you feel like you're the best in the country, you've gotta win every time."
In the case of Hubbard, the "rushmen" package has resulted in not just playing time he may not have been seeing otherwise as a backup, but an impressive statistical start to his college career.
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native's box scores have been as unique as one would expect for a high school safety who arrived at Ohio State as a linebacker before converting to tight end and eventually defensive end, as the former 4-star prospect has recorded 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss and an interception in his debut campaign.
If not for Johnson's vision to get Hubbard on the field rather than keeping a traditional nose guard next to Washington, the Queen City product knows that his opportunities would be coming much less frequently.
"It’s just another opportunity to get after the quarterback," Hubbard said of the "rushmen" packages. "I’m excited to make a play when I get on the field."
Like Lewis, Hubbard is well-aware that doing so as often as he has been wouldn't be possible without the work of Bosa and Washington inside. That's what makes Ohio State's unique defensive line look so effective, as its experienced players inside and impressive youngsters on the edge have helped create a unit with no weak links and plenty of ability to get after opposing quarterbacks.
"Inside, it’s just not what guards and centers expect to see," Hubbard said. "Joey Bosa lined up across from you."
Given the way that the "rushmen" package came about, it's not something the Buckeyes necessarily expected to see either.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.