Youth Makes Buckeye Defense a Work in Progress
by Patrick Murphy
Coming into the season, the Ohio State defense was a question mark.
Three weeks into 2013, it is still an uncertainty.
Locally, the unit has been referred to as average. A national pundit called it “horrendous.”
Most of this reaction has stemmed from the Buckeyes' concession of 34 points and over 500 yards to Cal.
In their first two games, OSU allowed a total of 27 points and 538 yards.
Against Buffalo, the offense had an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble that gave the Bulls the ball in Ohio State territory. San Diego State picked up their only score, and much of their yards, after the Buckeyes began playing their backups.
This is a young and inexperienced defense that was expected to develop as the season progressed. The only returning starter from last year’s front seven is junior linebacker Ryan Shazier; everyone else needed to be replaced.
In the secondary, the Buckeyes had the services of experienced players Bradley Roby at cornerback and Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett at the safety positions, but had to replace two-year starting cornerback Travis Howard.
There is talent in the replacements, but it takes time to adjust from rotational players to full-time starters. This time last year, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Joshua Perry were getting their first taste of college football. Doran Grant, Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, and Curtis Grant have a combined four starts.
To add to the inexperience, Roby and Barnett both missed the opening game – Roby to suspension and Barnett to injury – which required others to fill in and slowed the cohesion of the defensive unit.
Washington left the San Diego State game with an injury and has yet to return, but others have filled in well.
“Adolphus Washington went down, who we think is one of our better players and a true freshman jumps in there, plays 78 plays, and gets defensive player of the week,” Urban Meyer said of Joey Bosa against Cal.
With most of their defense intact against the Golden Bears, what went wrong for Ohio State’s defense?
“It was one of those games where the offense was fast tempo,” Bryant said.
“They had over 90 plays. They were bound to break a couple runs, get a couple big plays. I feel like for the most part we kept leverage like we felt like we were going to work towards.”
And the 32 points they hung on a group that wants to be the best defense in the country?
“They put 32 points on us, but it’s not because we weren’t going hard, so that’s all that matters to me,” he said.
Meyer shared those sentiments when going against a team like Cal.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of yards,” he said.
“You’re crazy if you think you’re going to just shut them down.”
Other national championship contenders – Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia – fall below the Buckeyes in yardage allowed and points against, yet Ohio State is not where it wants to be.
“It’s just things we have to keep working on,” Bryant said.
“Turnovers, that’s the key to the game as far as defense goes. We try to force as many turnovers as we can throughout every game and try and lead the nation in that category.”
OSU does not lead the nation in turnovers, but they are tied for fourth with seven on the year.
The Buckeyes are not satisfied, but it will take time for them to get better.
“I can’t be missing those tackles,” Shazier said of his play. “I’ve got to start wrapping up a little bit better.”
Just like last year, this defense should continue to improve every game.
With each outing, the young players gain more experience and grow as football players. They continue to learn in the heat of battle, while also being taught by their coaches and fellow players.
The season is still in its infancy and it is too early to fully evaluate this defense.
One thing the unit has that many others in Ohio State history did not is an explosive offense that is averaging 44.7 points per game.
This offense should be able to continue to put up these numbers until the defense has settled and rounded into the form expected.