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.