BSB's Midterm Gradebook: Defense

The Ohio State defense has again been impressive statistically - including a ranking no worse than sixth nationally in four major categories - but has coordinator Jim Heacock's unit been as good as the numbers indicate? See what the Buckeye Sports Bulletin staff writers say about that in our yearly midterm gradebook.

Defensive line

Marcus Hartman: The Ohio State front line set a precedent with the season opener that it would be tough to run on when it held Marshall to 44 yards on 21 carries, but the Thundering Herd also set another precedent. By favoring quick passes to avoid the onslaught of Cameron Heyward and friends, Marshall was able to get out of Columbus having yielded only three sacks, and future opponents have followed the same pattern. That has deflated the sack total (eight), but the Buckeyes pass the eyeball test in terms of pressure. To see if they are getting any, all you have to do is look. Nathan Williams has been the standout of the group so far. Despite missing the Marshall game, he is fourth on the team with 24 tackles while splitting his time between rushing and spying opposing passers.

Adam Jardy:It has been well-established that the Ohio State defense will only go as far as the defensive line can take it, and this year's group is proving up to the challenge of being an elite unit. The lone area of concern for me is in the lack of production. Although he has been a factor in a number of ways, the fact that Heyward has only half a sack through six games stuns me. We've heard each week that teams are throwing quicker and taking extra steps to keep the Buckeyes from getting in the offensive backfield, but I would still expect OSU to be ranked higher than eighth in the Big Ten in total sacks. Still, it is hard to find fault with a unit that leads the Big Ten in pass defense and is second in rush defense.

Jeff Svoboda: This is the hardest unit to grade for me. The lack of sacks is an understandable concern, but most of the opposing quarterbacks OSU have faced this year would say the front has accomplished its goal of affecting the signal caller. But when you look at it, you have two excellent veterans in Heyward and Dexter Larimore, a rapidly improving John Simon who can play both end and tackle and the versatile weapon that \ Williams has matured into. Add in some improving backups and I'd say this line has been more good than mediocre.

Matthew Hager: Heyward and Larimore have not sounded satisfied with the efforts of the line through the first half of the season. The Buckeyes have only eight sacks for 55 yards, but that doesn't mean the group hasn't put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Take for example Indiana's Ben Chappell. He wasn't sacked but was hassled all day as the Buckeyes picked off the IU quarterback twice. The gaudy stats may not be there yet, but the line has been solid. While Heyward has not had as big a season as he probably was hoping for when he returned for his senior campaign, Larimore has been solid in the middle, and Simon and Williams have fared well. Backups Solomon Thomas, Adam Bellamy and Garrett Goebel don't look lost out there, and true freshman Johnathan Hankins has been a revelation.

BSB's grade: A-


Hartman: Seniors Ross Homan and Brian Rolle have revised their roles as the team's top tacklers this season. Rolle's quest to play under better control and avoid being blocked as much has so far been successful. Homan remains a steadying force, but he has not been as much of a playmaker as last season. Not much has been seen of new Sam linebacker Andrew Sweat because of the preponderance of spread formations the Buckeyes have faced, but his time is coming.

Jardy: Buckeye fans need to appreciate what Homan brings to the table, because players like him do not come around every year. The senior leads the team with 37 tackles and seems to be in on every play, but his quiet demeanor ensures that he stays under the radar. He is as dependable as they come. Fellow senior Rolle has been equally prolific and shown a nifty pair of hands, but he does not seem to have the same ability to sniff out the football that Homan possesses. I'm willing to give junior Sweat a pass based on the injuries he has suffered in the past year, but you would like to see more production and consistent play out of these two. The depth remains largely unproven in my eyes. This is a unit with loads of potential and still has room for improvement.

Svoboda: Ohio State is used to excellent linebacker play, but I'm going to have to rate this one a tick below that. I think Rolle has definitely gotten better from a year ago but Homan – while good – hasn't been the dominating presence that I expected. Add in an incomplete grade for Sweat – although we'll get more data there Saturday – and it hasn't been a banner year for coach Luke Fickell's crew, just a solid one.

Hager: Ohio State is very fortunate to have Homan and Rolle manning the top two linebacker spots. Homan, someone who should be on the shortlist for Big Ten defensive player of the year, leads the Buckeyes in tackles and always seems to be around the football. Rolle has not allowed his size become a hindrance on the field, and is second in tackles. Homan and Rolle have different personalities – Rolle is far more vocal – but the duo have been dynamic on the field. Sweat has not seen as much of the field because of OSU's heavy use of the nickel, but that could change this week at Wisconsin against the Badgers' rushing offense.

BSB Grade: B+


Hartman: A group I considered a question mark entering the season has answered the challenges so far, including having to deal with multiple injuries. The group took some lumps against Miami (Fla.) but made more plays in the end than the Hurricanes, and last week's complete shutdown of a high-powered Indiana passing game was impressive. Senior safety Jermale Hines deserves props for adjusting well to his move to full-time safety without losing the physical mentality he used to excel as the nickel back in previous seasons, and Hines' presence has been invaluable for freshman Christian Bryant, the new Star in the nickel defense who looks like a keeper. A so-so performance against Eastern Michigan was a concern, but that was partly attributable to injuries and youth. Yet that means depth is something of a concern, too.

Jardy: If there was one weak unit coming into the season, it was in the secondary. Losing two starting seniors and featuring two returning starters who looked shaky at times last season made this look like a position ripe for the picking for opposing offenses. Instead, teams have mostly had a difficult time finding cracks back deep. That is partially thanks to the play of the defensive line and partially to improved play from the likes of Hines and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. You still see OSU's defensive backs failing to locate the ball in the air from time to time, but you also see them breaking up passes and showing plenty of hard-hitting ability. One more injury in the defensive backfield, however, and the Buckeyes could be in real trouble.

Svoboda: This was supposed to be the weak link, but the Buckeyes have played pretty good pass defense in every contest but the Eastern Michigan game, and even that came with two of the top three cornerbacks banged up. Senior cornerbacks Devon Torrence and Chekwa have taken a step forward, while Hines has been the playmaker I expected. Injuries to Tyler Moeller and C.J. Barnett have hurt, but Orhian Johnson and Bryant look as though they're going to be capable fill-ins for the rest of the season. The big-play aspect might be missing a bit with Moeller out, but this senior-laden group has been a pleasant surprise.

Hager: The perceived weakness of the defense has been on the back end. Chekwa and Torrence have had some shaky moments, but overall their results have been satisfactory. Hines is third in tackles and has provided some solid senior leadership. That has been very helpful as the secondary has gone through some major changes because of the season-ending injuries to Barnett and Moeller. Thankfully for Ohio State, Johnson and Bryant have been solid in their place.

BSB Grade: B

Buckeye Sports Top Stories