What a Difference a Year Makes for the Ohio State Defense

Baron Browning Ohio State Buckeyes Linebackers

Ohio State has hit the midway point of the regular season, which makes this a nice spot to step back and reflect a bit on how far the Buckeyes have come in a year.

At this point a year ago, Ohio State was 6-0 just like they are now, but there is very little resemblance between this year’s team and last year’s, specifically on defense.

After six games last season, four of the Buckeyes’ six opponents had scored at least 26 points on OSU. This year, only one opponent has reached the 20-point plateau, and that was Florida Atlantic’s 21 points in the season opener against a half-interested second-half Buckeye defense.

A year ago at this time, Ohio State was allowing 20 points per game. This year they’re tied for third in the nation, allowing just 8.8 points per game.

Last year after six games, the Buckeyes were giving up 143 yards rushing per game, allowing 4 yards per carry. That number has dropped dramatically this year, as Ohio State is now ninth in the nation in rush defense, allowing 82.0 yards per game — and sixth in yards per carry at just 2.4.

Are you starting to see a trend?

When Ryan Day went out and replaced 80% of his defensive staff, he didn’t do it because he wanted to see more 90-yard touchdowns.

In fact — the stickler that he is — he wanted to see no 90-yard touchdowns.

And so far — knocking wood — he hasn’t.

Greg Mattison, Jeff Hafley, Al Washington, Matt Barnes, and Larry Johnson went to work on turning this defense into something commensurate with the talent being recruited, and the results after six games have been impressive.

Last season, the Ohio State defense hosted more big plays than Broadway.

In just the first six games last season, the Buckeyes allowed 28 plays from scrimmage of at least 20 yards, 20 plays of at least 30 yards, nine plays of at least 40 yards, six plays of at least 50 yards, four plays of at least 60 and 70 yards, three plays of at least 80 yards, and two plays of 90 yards.

How have things gone this season? You probably already have a pretty good idea.

Ohio State’s defense has allowed just 14 plays of 20 yards or more this season, which is half of the total in the same span last year. Eight of those plays occurred with the Buckeyes leading by at least 20 points.

Of those 14 plays of 20+ yards, only four went for 30 yards or more, which is well below last year’s mark of 20.

Last year, the Buckeyes were almost averaging four plays of 30 yards or more allowed.

Oh, and the score when each of those four plays happened? That’s an interesting point as well.

Florida Atlantic completed a 38-yard pass behind third-team middle linebacker Teradja Mitchell when the score was 42-14 in the fourth quarter.

Cincinnati completed a 46-yard pass on Damon Arnette when the Buckeyes were leading 35-0 in the third quarter. Hafley told Arnette his day was done after the previous drive, but Arnette had to go back on the field unexpectedly when backup cornerback Sevyn Banks was injured on kickoff coverage.

Indiana completed a 49-yard touchdown with a double pass while the Buckeyes were leading 30-3 in the second quarter.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez broke free for a 56-yard scramble on the very first drive that the Buckeye starters were pulled from the game. The score at the time was 48-0 in the third quarter.

Essentially, the starting defense for the Buckeyes has only allowed two plays of 30 yards or more this season and one came via a gadget play while Ohio State was leading by 27 points, and the other happened to a suddenly called-upon Arnette, which Hafley took the blame for after the game.

That has to be a bit concerning for future opposing offenses, not that they weren’t already fairly worried.

Martinez’s 56-yard run is the longest play allowed by the Ohio State defense this season. Last year, the Buckeye defense gave up six 50-yard plays — or one per game — over the first six games of 2018.

It’s amazing what happens when there is more than one last line of defense. A year ago, the Buckeyes allowed eight rushes of 20 yards and five of those carries end up going for 40 or more yards. Four went for at least 50 yards and three went for at least 70 yards.

In other words, nearly half of the 20-yard rushes over the first half of last season ended up going for 70 yards or more.

This year, however, the defense knows where the ball is and they are stopping it. Opponents have five rushes of at least 20 yards, but only one — Martinez’s 56-yarder — has gone beyond 23 yards.

The 2019 Ohio State defense is making opponents earn just about every yard, and so far nobody has really been able to make much hay.

Of course, as Ryan Day has said repeatedly over the last week, none of it matters if they go out and lay an egg when they shouldn’t.

Through six games, however, this Buckeye defense hasn’t looked like the egg layin’ type.

10 Responses

  1. Hopping to see them come out of the bye week flawless in our first drive in Evanston. I’m sure they are going to work on their best 20 play calls over and over and over. Like the hockey coach did the US hockey team that beat the best team ever assembled for the time period. You can definitely outwork talent. Our defense last year got out worked by other teams, that falls on the HC. Coach Meyer lost his mojo somewhere along the way.

  2. Good players, wih experience-9 returning starters on defense, plus good coaching strategy = what all are seeing this year.

    Tony you are perpetuating a myth: Martinez scored on at least a mix of 1st teamers. All three tackles prior to the score were made by first team defensive players.

    Give credit where credit is due.

    1. Sir Miles — Good call. There were still five starters in when Martinez bolted for the 56 yarder. Watching it live, I saw Zach Harrison, JJB, and Brendon White in the backfield and Josh Proctor and Baron Browning making the tackle. I assumed too much on the fly and never went back to verify. Malik Harrison, the three corners, and Davon Hamilton were still out there.

  3. Biggest difference this year – on-the-fly adjustments. Can’t be stressed enough, Gerd!

  4. I generally distrust defensive statistics in the early part of the season, and I think for good reason. Competition levels are lower than later on in general, and a host of sins can be hidden by inferior opponents and even some fortunate breaks. Often those teams with “great defenses” are exposed in dramatic fashion when they do meet quality competition- (see last year’s game with TTUN for a fantastic late-season example of that.

    I appreciate this article in that it puts into perspective that there have indeed been some dramatic improvements over last year’s squad in what has been accomplished to date. At six games into the season, it seems meaningful comparisons can be made, and across the board, there has been improvement, some of it quite substantial.

    The coaches have put together a good plan to match the personnel they have on hand, and have provided ways for players to support each other and provide a safety net rather than putting everyone essentially on their own island. Such was the case last year, where one mistake often resulted in a huge play for the opposition. Although the aggressive pursuit can (and will) be exploited on occasion by a qualtiy opponent, the benefits of that approach, including the gang tackling that prevents one miss becoming a long toiuchdown, generally outweigh the occasional exploit of that tendency. Although I think our linebacker play needs to improve dramatically to match the rest of the defense, overall this looks to be a skilled and well-coached defensive squad.

    Kudos to the coaching staff for their work this year in righting the defensive ship, and to Coach Day for not just recognizing the need for serious change but for also getting the right coaches for the job. I appreciate every coach who dedicates their time and effort to developing our players, and I won’t badmouth any of the former staff members. But I will say that this coaching staff has shown at the halfway point of the regular season that they have the talents to be a special group of coaches, and are of a quality level across the board that is rarely found in the college game. Here’s hoping they all enjoy the ride as much as we do their results, and that they decide staying put for a while at tOSU is best for them. My impression of the way Coach Day runs a family-friendly program for players and coaches is one big step toward ensuring that feeling in his staff. I hope that succeeds.

  5. Toss out the gimmicks contained in “exotic” play, get a real LB coach and 2 terrific DC’s and presto……with the same talent (nearly all) you have a championship level defense to complement that explosive offense and rock solid special teams.

    This entire team is a beast. It starts with Pantoni, is crafted by Marotti, developed by position coaches, assembled by tremendous coordinators and unleashed by Coach Day.

    Take a look up and down the depth chart. AMAZING, with extreme talent being recruited. If Coach Day can keep this staff intact, we just might be witnessing the greatest coaching era in the history of the program, despite the legends that came before him.

      1. With a incredible culture built by Coach Meyer to build upon

        1. Of course, but I include Urban Meyer in the group of “legends that came before” Coach Day. Other than Coach Johnson the entire defensive staff is entirely Coach Days.

          The reason I worded it as I did is because of what we saw the last few years under Urban. His buddies and best men in charge of a defense that left a great deal to the imagination. Maybe Urban made those hires because his legacy was already established, and he lost his passion for being ruthless going about wins. That doesn’t say that I disliked Urban… all, because I don’t dislike him.

          Coach Day is hungry and regardless of the culture Urban left behind, the program already has enhancements TO the culture that the new boss is aggressively chasing to set a new standard in his quest of legacy/legend.

          Legends? Paul Brown. Francis Schmidt (gold pants tradition), Woody, Tress, Urban. Each one in his turn found a program that was already tradition rich with a winning standard and culture, and they all made it better in their own way. Coach Day is chasing legend and first year observations at this point suggest a new gold standard.

          But you’re right. Urban created an advancement to the transitional powers culture at Ohio State. It’s up to Coach Day to build on top of it. Just as Urban did.

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