Bank Blog: Quick Thoughts Defense

Ohio State capped an undefeated season by defeating Michigan 26-21 Saturday in Columbus. Senior Zach Boren saved his best performance for last, and he helped key a dominant defensive effort in the second half.

- First off, the numbers tell the entire story, and in the first half it was a familiar one. Michigan ends up with 279 total yards, but gets 172 of them on three plays. Their other 44 offensive plays netted a grand total of 107 yards. It was looking like the same-old, same-old, for the defense, but in the second half, Ohio State completely dominated defensively, and had they not pitched a shutout, they likely would have lost. While the offense flopped around aimlessly in the second half, the defense went out and won the game.

- Two game balls defensively for this game: Zach Boren and Luke Fickell, and both deserve major props for this win.

- Fickell was without his best football player in Johnny Simon, but put plugged in Adolphus Washington and the defensive line never missed a beat. He harassed Devin Gardner most of the day, with varying blitz packages and staying in the base 4-3 most of the game. They key move in the second half was bringing the safetys up closer to the line of scrimmage, to dare Michigan to beat them over the top. Bradley Roby and Travis Howard were flawless in the second half, and there were no running lanes.

- Zach Boren has played a big role in past Ohio State victories, mostly under the Jim Tressel regime. He was a player that flourished in the Tressel offense, but is basically a man without a position in the Urban Meyer spread. He was switched to defense midway through the year, and ends up being the best player on the field in his last game as a Buckeye. Boren stoned the running game, had a huge sack on Gardner, and even played well in coverage out in space. His move to defense is the key move in Ohio State's undefeated season, much like the switch of Chris Gamble to that side of the football led the way to the last undefeated season for the Buckeyes. I'm not sure how you go out any better than what Boren did against Michigan on Saturday.

- The opposite of that is Johnny Simon, and how cruel were the football gods that this player had to sit out his final football game at Ohio State due to injury? Sometimes life ain't fair. Regardless, Simon leaves Ohio State as one of the finest defensive linemen in school history, and probably the face of the program in Meyer's first season in Columbus. In a year that saw Meyer fairly appalled at what he found at Ohio State, both on and off the field when he arrived, there was nothing but praise and admiration from the Buckeye head coach when speaking about Johnny Simon, and that started from the day Meyer arrived in Columbus.

- Nathan Williams is a great football player, but my feeling is we never saw him reach his full potential, due to the devastating knee injury suffered last season. He played this year at less than 100% physically, but willed his way through the season on guts and determination. There is no way the Ohio State medical staff thought they would get as many snaps out of Williams this season as they did, and it's a tribute to the kid and his toughness. Here's hoping for a great NFL career.

- There is probably nothing worse than a player not reaching expectations, and the one that immediately comes to mind is Curtis Grant. All he needs to do is look to senior linebacker Etienne Sabino for guidance and motivation. Both came in highly touted, and neither lived up to expectations early in their careers. For Sabino, it was all about maturity, both physical and mental, because he entered Ohio State a full year younger than his freshman teammates. Taking a redshirt year in the middle of your career is not what any player wants to do, but it saved Sabino's career. He ended up as defensive MVP of last season's Gator Bowl, and had a fine senior season. More importantly to Sabino, he earned Meyer's respect and the two are as close as any player/coach in the program. Grant would be wise to use Sabino as a guide for career advice.

- Ryan Shazier can be maddening out on the field, and he can have both great and bad plays on the same play. But he's getting it, and next year will be the year he puts it all together. Most coaches constantly stress "playing fast" to their players, but with Shazier it's more about slowing it down a gear and playing under control. He finished the season at close to 220-pounds, but will begin next season at 230-235. Combining that speed with extra bulk, and another year of maturity, puts Shazier in All-American territory. He was very good against Michigan, with sacks, tackles for losses and plenty of big plays, but he has played better football. Next year, he will not only be counted on to raise his game, but be looked at as the on-field leader of a very young linebacker group. He is ready to take on that role, and Fickell is grooming him for that next step.

- Similar to Shazier in making fans shake their heads is Christian Bryant, but nobody can criticize his effort and passion for the game. His improvement this season was clutch in Ohio State preventing big plays in the back end, although that definitely popped up again in the Michigan game. Along with Boren being inserted into the lineup, Bryant and C.J. Barnett playing better had a huge impact on the defense. Both should be excellent next year, as they will have a lot of game experience under their belts.

- The D-line loses a lot of game experience, but youngsters Joel Hale, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Noah Spence showed the potential to play at a high level. They will be inexperienced along the front next season, but they are very deep and very talented.

- Doran Grant might be the key next year to having the type of defense Meyer wants, and that factor goes up 50X if Bradley Roby leaves early for the NFL, which I do not see happening. Even if Roby stays, Grant will need to be ready to go at the opposite corner, and he will be targeted by opposing offenses from the first week.

- Had Ohio State not improved dramatically defensively after the Indiana game, there's no way this would be an undefeated team today. With the offense sputtering often down the stretch, Ohio State needed the defense to bail them out more than once, and they came through every time. Fickell deserves a lot of praise for holding things together, coaching people up, and finding the right combinations. There's no reason to not expect Ohio State to field a championship-style defense next year, with emphasis placed on tackling and eliminating the big play.


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