Charlie Weis is widely considered to have one of the best offensive minds in football, and in less than a year he has turned Notre Dame into a team that relies on it's high powered offense to win games. If a defense can be exploited in any area, Weis will find it. The problem is that Ohio State's senior-laden defense won't give you much. They understand their scheme, they trust their scheme and they play within their scheme. On top of that, they have the athletes to execute the scheme. The Ohio State defense held five teams to less than 200 total yards. The defense was fourth in the nation by allowing only 275.3 yards per game and seventh in scoring defense (14.82 points per game).
The Irish have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but they may not have enough athletes to exploit the Buckeyes like Charlie Weis would like. The challenge for Notre Dame starts with the Buckeye front seven. Both the defensive line and the linebackers have very good size. It shouldn't be a surprise that this unit led the nation in rushing defense by allowing a paltry 74.5 yards per game and only 2.4 yards per rushing attempt.
Strong-side defensive end David Patterson (6-3, 285 pounds) is a junior who is starting for the first time in his career, but he has played plenty of football for the Buckeyes. Through 11 games Patterson has 23 tackles, and four quarterback sacks. He's a very good athlete and can play anywhere along the defensive line depending on the down and distance. He's very good at holding the corner for the defense, and he is very consistent.
At the rush end is true senior Mike Kudla (6-3, 265 pounds). Kudla is basically a two-year starter who registered 34 tackles and six and a half sacks during the regular season. He can make the big play when the defense needs it, and he really started to come on toward the end of the year. Kudla is a high-energy player, a nasty guy that makes plays. What he doesn't have in athletic ability he makes up for in effort.
The beef in the middle starts with junior Quinn Pitcock (6-3, 295 pounds). Pitcock had 27 tackles three of which were registered for a loss. He holds the point of attack and he's very difficult to move off the ball. He has good mobility for a big guy, so he will chase plays from behind and he's very active along the line.
The other defensive tackle is fifth year senior Marcus Green (6-3, 305 pounds). A two-year starter, Green finished the season with 34 tackles and four for a loss. He eats up blockers so the linebackers can make the plays. Green is another guy that is very difficult to move of the ball. He won't make a ton of plays in the backfield, but he keeps the linemen off the backers.
The entire Buckeye defense is very capable of making plays, but it isn't a secret that the linebacker corps is the teeth of the defense. This unit is probably the best group of linebackers in the country. They all can run, but they play with a sense of urgency – they play with a nasty streak you love to see from your own players.
The big question is if all-world senior linebacker Bobby Carpenter (6-3, 255 pounds) will play. Carpenter was fifth on the team in tackles with 49, and he led the team in sacks with eight. Carpenter broke a bone in his leg in the final game of the season against Michigan. He has been up and running during practice, but I would be surprised if he isn't very limited against the Irish. Carpenter was is third team All-American linebacker. He has good speed and delivers when he gets to the ball carrier. Ohio State brings him up as a pass rusher in nickel situations.
If Carpenter can't go, freshman James Laurinaitis (6-3, 231 pounds) will likely get the call at the SAM backer spot. He isn't going to replace Carpenter's productivity, but if you can step in and play as a true freshman at Ohio State, you're good. Laurinaitis can move and he can hit. He didn't play a ton this season, but the Ohio State staff likes his potential.
At the Mike linebacker is senior Anthony Schlegel (6-1, 251 pounds). He was second on the team with 75 tackles seven of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Irish fans will remember Schlegel as the standout linebacker that transferred from Air Force. Schlegel is a throwback football player--productivity based on gut and grit. He's better against the run than against the past. He won't test well at the NFL combines, but he just makes plays. He's a smart player and is rarely out of place.
At the weak-side linebacker is three-year starter, senior A.J. Hawk (6-1, 240 pounds). For the third straight season Hawk lead the Buckeyes in tackles with 109, and he also led the team with 13 tackles for a loss. Hawk is a two-time All-American, three-time all-Big Ten linebacker and the 2005 Lombardi award winner. He runs extremely well. He might be the best linebacker in Ohio State history for a school that has produced some great linebackers. He consistently makes plays that change the momentum of the game. He has superior instincts and is also a throwback player with present day skills.
There isn't a weakness in the Buckeye defense, but if you have to pick something it's going to be the defensive backfield. This unit isn't quite as experienced as the rest of the defense, but they are still very good with three all-Big Ten performers. The Ohio State defensive backfield only yielded 200 yards through the air per game and they were ranked No. 31 in the country in pass efficiency defense. The starters only had four interceptions on the season but only allowed eight touchdowns via the pass.
True junior Ashton Youboty (6-1, 188 pounds) starts for his second season. Youboty was fourth on the team in tackles with 50 and he had one interception. He's a very good cover corner and very good in run support -- he'll come up and put a hat on you. He's Ohio State's best cover guy and he could leave early for the NFL. Youboty is a former teammate of Notre Dame commitment Chris Stewart.
Senior Tyler Everett (5-11, 202 pounds) is the other starting cornerback. He had 31 tackles on the year and is starting for the second consecutive season. He's a converted safety that has shown the ability to cover fairly well. He certainly can come up against the run. If Notre Dame is going to attack one spot, Everett might be the guy.
At free safety the Buckeyes trot out senior Nate Salley (6-3, 220 pounds), who is starting for the third consecutive season. The first team All-Big Ten performer finished with 40 tackles and one interception. He runs well and he's a big hitter, but he also plays the ball very well. He's the emotional leader of the defense.
Junior Donte Whitner (5-11, 205 pounds) started for the first time in his career in 2005, but he has played a bunch in his first three years in Columbus. Whitner finished the season third on the team in tackles with 64, nine of which were for a loss. Whitner added four sacks and two interceptions. The first team All-Big Ten player is a big hitter despite his size and he'll come up strong in run support. He's a fantastic athlete with superior instincts.
It's clear the Irish will have their hands full with this talented Ohio State defense, but Notre Dame has shown the ability to score and move the ball on a number of good defenses this season. However, Ohio State could rival Tennessee as the best defense the Irish face this season.