Only one senior starts, but the Buckeyes find themselves in the nation's top 20 in total defense and scoring defense. They are 21st in passing yards allowed per game, but they have allowed opposing quarterbacks an uncomfortably high efficiency rate.
Lapses at important times have hurt the team and contributed to a 4-3 record at this point, but overall the coaching staff and players should be commended for regrouping as well as they have.
So how did each individual position group perform in the eyes of Buckeye Sports Bulletin? Read on for each staff writers grades.
The Buckeyes have missed senior Nathan Williams up front, but Johnny Simon and Johnathan Hankins have done their best to cover up for his absence with a combined 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks. Providing support are fellow starters Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy while a handful of freshmen have gotten their feet wet.
Marcus Hartman grade: A-
The top two players on the defense play up front in Simon and Hankins. Simon's nonstop motor complements his great quickness and upper body strength while Hankins appears to be just scratching the surface. He has left no doubt he's more than just a big body as he makes man of his stops in backside pursuit. Goebel has been solid inside at nose guard, and Bellamy has held his own playing opposite Simon, but both will need to be more disruptive in the second half of the season as Simon and Hankins figure to get more and more attention. Freshman Michael Bennett also appears to be a sky's-the-limit-type of guy with his power and motor. Nathan Williams' fill-ins at Leo – J.T. Moore, Steve Miller and Solomon Thomas – have failed to make much of an impact.
Matthew Hager Grade: A-
My grade for this unit is pretty high, but that's because I'm afraid of Simon and Hankins. In all seriousness, though, Simon and Hankins have been beasts so far this season. Simon was the leader the line needed, doing a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes. Hankins took the next step in his development, gaining the stamina needed to say on the field longer without losing the potential he showed as a freshman last season. Fellow starters junior Goebel and sophomore Bellamy have been taken up blockers well enough but haven't become big-play guys yet.
Jeff Svoboda's Grade: B+
This would likely be an ‘A' if Williams hadn't been hurt, but the Buckeyes have still made the best of the situation thanks to the excellent play of Simon and Hankins. Both have played multiple positions and done it well, with Simon living up to the high potential he's shown the past two seasons and Hankins turning into a potential star. "Big Hank" makes at least one play per game that a man his size simply shouldn't make. Goebel and Bellamy haven't been stars but have filled their roles well, and Bennett looks like a potential All-American. The rest of the depth on the line has been mediocre, as young Leos Miller and Moore haven't shined and have resulted in the Buckeyes going with four down linemen rather than use a Leo except in nickel situations.
Ari Wasserman's Grade: A
Ohio State may have plenty of youth on its defense, but the consistency of the defensive line has more than made up for any shortcomings that exist in the secondary. Despite losing Williams after the team's first game because of a season-ending injury, Simon and Hankins have done more than their part to continue to pressure the other team. Sporting depth like no other place on Ohio State's team, the Buckeyes' defensive line has certainly gotten the job done. The scariest part about it, too, is that Simon and Hankins could be back as a duo again next year.
Head coach Luke Fickell has talked often about the need to play a variety of players at this position, but once again the lion's share of minutes have gone to three players: Senior Andrew Sweat and juniors Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino. Sweat leads the team with 49 tackles, including five for loss, from his Will position while Sabino has 35 stops and Klein 22 as the pair have mostly alternated at the Mike ‘backer. Sabino also played some Sam in the rarely seen base defense.
Marcus Hartman Grade: C-
Though they showed signs of life in the win at Illinois, this group has been disappointing so far. Sweat has been the most consistent performer despite having to play through some injuries early in the season, but the play of Klein and Sabino left a lot to be desired. Neither tackled well or looked good in space until the Illinois game, when both were big factors in controlling the Fighting Illini rush offense. I also like what I've seen from Ryan Shazier, although the sample size is admittedly small.
Matthew Hager's Grade: C
This group lost Ross Homan and Brian Rolle to the NFL, so a dip in production was not the biggest shock. Still, the production from this group has been uneven. Sweat has played well for the most part while Klein and Sabino saw good and bad moments. Sabino still struggles with tackling and Klein isn't the fastest player in open space. Freshman Shazier looks like a stud, but he's still learning the OSU defense.
Jeff Svoboda's Grade: C
Ohio State has been known for its linebacker play in recent years and a few years ago it looked like the Buckeyes were rich in depth at the position. But some players haven't panned out, some transferred and injuries have claimed others, leaving the Buckeyes thin in depth. Sweat is a good player having a good year but would be a better second banana, while the play of Klein and Sabino has left something to be desired. The Buckeyes will hope the way the two played against Illinois augers well for the future one week after the linebackers struggled vs. Nebraska. Shazier looks like a potential star one day but is still a bit raw for the position.
Ari Wasserman's Midterm Grade: C
Usually a position of great strength for the Buckeyes, the linebackers have left something to be desired in the first half of the season. Despite being led by Sweat, who has been productive most of the time this year, the rest of the group has been somewhat inconsistent, specifically at the middle linebacker spot. Though Klein and Sabino have both shown signs of growth, neither have put together a year that would make the loss of Rolle feel like a distance memory.
Another young group has had two members of the 2010 recruiting class – redshirt freshman cornerback Bradley Roby and sophomore safety Christian Bryant – emerge while a third-year player – C.J. Barnett – returned from knee surgery to solidify another starting safety role. Cornerback Travis Howard is the old hat of the starting group as a fourth-year junior.
Bryant leads the secondary with 33 tackles despite not entering the starting lineup until week four, while Roby and Barnett share the team lead with six pass breakups apiece.
Marcus Hartman grade: B-
Roby has been one of the team's biggest surprises this season, showing a willingness to come up and attack the run and the ability to shut down receivers in coverage. Howard has been the subject of a lot of criticism, but I think a lot of the catches he has allowed have come when he was handcuffed by the coverage called. Barnett looks like a very nice all-around player as he has been comfortable playing both deep safety and in the box. He is aggressive and has a nose for the ball. Bryant has been an upgrade over Orhian Johnson, but Bryant's aggression has been something of a double-edged sword. He will bring the wood but was out of position on two Nebraska touchdowns. Tyler Moeller has played a lot as the Star and been solid but not the difference maker he was expected to be. As with Howard, I attribute that a lot to scheme, though, and I think Moeller has done a good job executing what he's been asked to do.
Matthew Hager's Grade: C
The cornerbacks, safeties and star positions all had good and bad moments so far this season. Howard and redshirt freshman Roby both struggled against talented wide receivers Eric Page of Toledo and Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham. Roby has arguably been better than Howard but both looked better against Illinois last weekend. The safeties were also up and down. Bryant unseated Johnson for a starting spot but sometimes looked more to deliver a big hit than make a solid tackle. Barnett was more consistent than Bryant but missed several tackles. Moeller was a mainstay at the star position again. He struggled early in the season but has played better as of late.
Jeff Svoboda's Grade: B
I wasn't sure how the Buckeyes would replace Devon Torrence, Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines, but they've been solid in the back end so far other than some high-profile struggles in controlling Page and Cunningham. Howard hasn't been the shutdown corner many expected but hasn't been bad, while Roby looks like a breakout star and Clarke has proven to be more than capable going forward. Barnett and Bryant are still working on some fundamentals but still have been effective players for the most part. Moeller hasn't been used as aggressively as in the past but has filled his role as the team's nickel back very nicely.
Ari Wasserman's Midterm Grade: C
The linebackers weren't the only group that had to overcome a complete facelift, as the secondary had only Johnson back as a returning starter heading into the year. Though this secondary is stacked with potential – the list goes on with Roby, Bryant and Barnett – there have also been some growing pains in the process. Even senior Moeller, who has come back after missing the majority of the last two seasons with injuries, hasn't quite played like the guy we remembered two years ago. The secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the country in the next few years, but it isn't this year.