Where's the defense?

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Last updated: 12/11/2013 3:10 AM
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Where Has the Ohio State Defense Gone?
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the Ohio State Buckeyes give up just three points to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, it will mark the first time in school history that an OSU defense has allowed 20 points per game for three consecutive seasons.

Since their first season in 1889, the Buckeyes have allowed 20 points per game over a season nine times, and the 10th is very likely to happen this season.

1890 – 32.0 ppg
1943 – 20.8 ppg
1981 – 21.1 ppg
1988 – 25.7 ppg
1989 – 24.8 ppg
1999 – 23.9 ppg
2001 – 20.3 ppg
2011 – 21.0 ppg
2012 – 22.8 ppg
2013 – 21.3 ppg (with one game remaining)

Given the history of defense at Ohio State, the recent numbers are alarming, if not disturbing. Over the last 20 seasons, few teams can match the defensive consistency of the Buckeyes. Unfortunately for OSU fans, those days are becoming older, and the memories foggier.

If you ask a Buckeye fan about the darkest days of the Jim Tressel era, most will cite the 2004 season with a non-existent offense and a sketchy defense. That defense, however, allowed 18.3 points per game. While it was the second-worst of the Tressel Era (2001 – 20.3 ppg), it would be welcomed by all in any of the last three seasons.

Urban Meyer has lamented the fact that he has yet to have an “Ohio State defense” at Ohio State, and he's obviously working towards that. To this point, however, he has been unsuccessful.

A large part of the problem is the amount of turnover involved in a coaching change, which is compounded by the fact that Ohio State has had two coaching changes in the past three calendar years. Players transfer, attrition is expected, and it can take a year or three before the current coach's players begin to contribute.

Meyer has done a fantastic job rebuilding a defensive line that lost four starters from last year. This season, the Buckeyes lead the nation in sacks, with 41. The defensive line has 31.5 of those. A year ago, a senior-laden OSU defensive line notched 19 sacks in one fewer games. The 31.5 sacks this season are more than any defensive line under Jim Tressel.

Things seem to be trending up on the defensive line, as also indicated by the Buckeyes currently sitting at #7 in the nation in rush defense (102.6 ypg).

While “everything starts up front” in football, to their detriment, everything has ended up in the back seven for Ohio State the last few seasons. Until Meyer is able to match the linebackers and secondary with his defensive line, every time a quarterback isn't pressured by the defensive line, the Buckeyes will be at a disadvantage.

How has it gotten this bad? Just take a look at the recruiting. Since 2009, here are the linebackers and defensive backs who were unable to finish their careers in Columbus for one reason or another.

LB Jonathan Newsome
CB Dominic Clarke
LB Dorian Bell
S Jamie Wood
LB Jordan Whiting
S Christian Bryant
LB Chad Hagan
LB Scott McVey
LB David Durham
LB Jamel Turner
LB Conner Crowell
S Jeremy Cash
CB DerJuan Gambrell
LB David Perkins
LB Luke Roberts
CB Najee Murray

That is 16 players who weren't able to provide depth at a time when Ohio State desperately needed them, and it has haunted them for the last three seasons. Fans can get angry at the coaches, but it's not a lack of coaching that forces Zach Boren to move to linebacker last year. Now, that is not to say that there aren't coaching issues, rather that it would be hard for any coach to overcome losses such as these.

See Jeremy Cash's name up there? He was a first-team All ACC safety for Duke this season. Do you think the Buckeyes could have used him this season? Jonathan Newsome? He was first-team All MAC at Ball State. There is a reason Meyer was at a loss for words and could only smack the podium with his palm when trying to talk about Christian Bryant being lost to injury after the Wisconsin game this season.

Granted, this doesn't explain why the current players have had so much trouble executing the game plan, but perhaps with stiffer competition, everybody would be better off. After all, more options eventually lead to better options.

There is no quick fix, but this is Ohio State, so things are never really that broken. Urban Meyer knows this, which is why he will ultimately hold his coaches accountable. How quickly that account comes, however, remains to be seen.

What we do know is that Meyer wants to get his Buckeyes back to playing Ohio State defense. Until he has that, he won't be happy. As long as he's not happy, his assistants won't be either.

With the amount of talent that the Buckeyes can bring in, there is no reason for Ohio State to continue having these issues in the back seven. Everybody on the OSU staff is working towards the same goal, and with the ability they have to recruit, solutions should be appearing every single February.

But if the coaching isn't equal to the recruiting, then just like a defensive line without any help behind them, the hard work is all for naught, and Urban Meyer is not the type to continue to allow this to happen.

Eventually, Meyer is going to have to decide if the problems on defense have been talent or coaching, and even then we won't know if he's right until the following season.

Related Article: What happened to all those Freshmen?

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