Forget Offense, Meyer’s Defense Could Be Scary
Buckeyes Building Championship Defense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The name Urban Meyer has become synonymous with explosive offense, but it is the defense he is building at Ohio State that could single-handedly alter the balance of power in the Big Ten.
Since taking over the program at the end of November, Meyer has already landed four of the top defensive prospects in the country, and he isn’t done yet. The latest to join forces with Meyer and OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is 5-star defensive end Noah Spence.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound prospect from Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt gave his verbal commitment to Meyer during his official visit to Columbus Sunday despite the fact he was planning to hold his announcement until the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 5.
Spence is the fourth Blue Chip prospect Meyer has landed since taking the job at Ohio State, and all four of them have been on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, all of them have been on the defensive line, where the Buckeyes signed one of their most highly touted classes in school history just one year ago.
The Buckeyes have been known for turning out great defenses in Columbus since the days of Woody Hayes, but the transition from Fickell as interim coach to Urban Meyer was supposed to be about offense. It was supposed to be renewal of the high-powered spread attack Meyer implemented at Bowling Green, Utah and eventually Florida.
Meyer even said so himself.
“The thing that is going to change is offense, if you say what’s going to change at Ohio State,” Meyer said last week during a radio appearance.
“The impact we’re making is there’s excitement. There’s not a whole lot of things to fix, it’s still Ohio State and the kids know that.”
From the time he arrived in Gainesville back in 2005, Meyer’s versatile deployment revolutionized the way football was played in the SEC. The Gators routinely averaged over 450 yards of offense per game—for the entire season.
But they were also among the best in the country on the other side of the ball.
In 2008, Florida ranked fourth in the country in scoring defense and ninth in total defense, five spots ahead of Ohio State. A year later they were up to fourth in total defense, and while Meyer wasn’t calling the plays on defense, he understands the obvious value of a stout defense.
That is why he asked Fickell to remain on staff as defensive coordinator, and why he is expected to add former North Carolina defensive coordinator Everett Withers to Fickell’s staff on defense.
With the help of Fickell, Mike Vrabel, Stan Drayton and Taver Johnson, Meyer has already earned commitments from three defensive linemen who rank among the top 100 players in the country—not at their position, but in the entire recruiting class.
The first to flip was Tommy Schutt, a 6-3, 300-pound defensive tackle out of Illinois who had been committed to Penn State. Schutt is a high 4-star prospect and the No. 5 defensive tackle in the country according to Rivals.com, but Scout.com has him with five stars.
Se’Von Pittman, Meyer’s second commit, is considered to be one of the top players in the state of Ohio and a top-10 defensive end in the country. He was one of the prize commits for former OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, but it didn’t take long for Meyer and Fickell to bring him home.
The Buckeyes already landed 6-6 defensive end Adolphus Washington under Fickell’s watch, and now they add another 5-star end who just might be the best player at his position in the entire country, assuming Washington didn’t already hold that title.
Together, the Buckeyes are getting two of the premier sack masters in America.
Washington alone had 25 sacks as a senior, after recording 17 as a junior and Spence is right on his heels with 34.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He also had 60 tackles for loss and held offers from nearly every major program in the country.
Without using hyperbole, these two ends just might be the top two defensive players in the entire Midwest, if not the country. Rivals ranks Spence No. 9 overall in the class of 2012 and No. 5 among defensive players. Washington is down at No. 36 overall according to the latest Rivals100, but Scout has him rated as the No. 3 defensive end in the country behind Spence and Mario Edwards (Texas).
The Buckeyes return their entire defensive line from the 2011 season, including third-team All-American John Simon. They may add all-conference defensive end Nathan Williams to the mix at some point next season if he can get his knee back to full strength, and that says nothing about the buffet of young talent the Buckeyes have stockpiled on their defensive front.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins will be a junior next season, but the list of players who will be freshmen or sophomores next season includes: Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, J.T. Moore, Darryl Baldwin, Joel Hale, Kenny Hayes and Chase Farris.
Add in veterans like Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy, and Ohio State may be able to rotate as many as 10 guys up front on next year’s defense. The addition of Washington and Spence, along with Pittman and Schutt, could make this group scary good, and that is just the way Meyer likes it.
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