BSB Midterm Gradebook: Defense

The open week comes at the midway point of the season for Ohio State, which means it's a perfect time to break down the Buckeyes' performances for the first six games. staffers take a look at each position on defense in the second part of our exams.

Ben Axelrod, Ryan Ginn, Matthew Hager and Jeff Svoboda break down how the Ohio State position groups have done through the first six games on an offense that places 19th in the nation and and sixth in the Big Ten in scoring (19.2 points) and 24th/fourth in yardage (326.2).

Axelrod: Despite bringing back no starters from a season ago, the OSU defensive line was supposed be a strength this season thanks to the play of Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. And while those two have been steady, it's been freshman Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Michael Bennett who have shone the most for the Buckeyes this season. They could be doing a better job of getting to the quarterback, but this year's unit has proven to be deeper and more versatile through the team's first six games.B+

Ginn: Bosa has been a revelation, and the Buckeyes have seemed to seamlessly plug in replacements when injuries arose. Even Chase Farris, who switched over from the offensive line to provide depth after the injury to Tommy Schutt, performed well when called upon. Ohio State averaged 2.67 sacks per game in the first half of the season, good enough for first in the Big Ten. Additionally, the rush defense (86.17 yards per game) ranks seventh in the country. A

Hager: There were plenty of concerns going into the season for this group, one that had to replace all four starters from a year ago. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the unit has performed admirably. Bennett and Bosa have both had flashes of brilliance. Bosa has emerged in the place of Washington, a solid player in his own right who has dealt with injuries. Other starters Joel Hale and Spence have also played solidly, as have reserve players Chris Carter, Michael Hill, Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller. The DL has quieted its critics – and opponents' rushing attacks. The Buckeyes rank seventh nationally in rushing defense. A-

Svoboda: People were worried (with good reason) about this unit in the fall, but when I looked at it, I saw a group with enough talented players that surely a few would emerge. That's exactly what has happened. Bennett has played back to the level he was at before last year's injury, Bosa is a stud, Spence has been quietly very good against both the run and the pass, Hale has passed the test as an inside space-eater, and players Adolphus Washington (unfortunately banged up), Miller, Carter and Marcus have had their flashes as well. The recruiting at this spot is clearly paying off. A-

Axelrod: Meyer has criticized the play of the Buckeyes' linebackers through the first half of the season, but all things considered, they could be a lot worse. Ryan Shazier is what he is, hit or miss on any given play, and Curtis Grant has managed to hold onto his starting spot for more than three games this season. Even with a developing Joshua Perry, this unit still has ground to make up, but has done enough for OSU's front-seven to be considered a strength of the overall roster. C+

Ginn: How to evaluate a unit that has spent much of the season in limited action because of nickel and dime packages? Shazier has lived up to expectations, leading the team with 47 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Grant has also delivered an acceptable performance, racking up 35 tackles and two sacks. B-

Hager: There was a concern that this group could become Shazier and not much else this fall. That really hasn't been the case, though. Shazier, unsurprisingly, has been impressive with 47 tackles, eight tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles. Alongside Shazier, Grant played well. He ranks behind only Shazier with 35 tackles to go with 2½ tackles for loss and two sacks. Grant's had a good bounce back from last year's struggles. Joshua Perry has played in Ohio State's base defense at strongside linebacker and has played well for the most part. The whole group probably wants more production, but it has been far from poor. B

Svoboda: There was plenty of cause for concern here before the season, but it's hard to grade these guys too poorly. Shazier isn't perfect – he still plays out of control at times – but he's a playmaker for sure, and the kind of guy that offenses really have to worry about at all times. Grant hasn't been great against the pass but has done his job with aplomb against the run, while Perry is getting there. There's still no depth, but thankfully the Buckeyes haven't really had to explore the depth chart. B

Axelrod: It'd be tougher to find a more disappointing portion of the Buckeyes' roster than the defensive backs, which was supposed to be a strength of the team this season. Bradley Roby has struggled in two primetime matchups, while Christian Bryant's season-ending injury has proven to be a problem at the safety spot. Some of the unit's struggles has been the result of players being left on islands, but that's also something that they were expected to be able to handle. C

Ginn: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has repeatedly defended the secondary for its poor performances against Wisconsin and Northwestern by noting that the Buckeyes sold out to stop the run, and that point certainly has some merit. At the same time, the reason Ohio State felt comfortable doing that is because coaches believed the defensive backs would be able to contain wide receivers. All-American cornerback Roby has made some big plays, but he's also given up his fair share. OSU can't afford to trot out the 76th-ranked pass defense in the country, no matter the circumstances. D+

Hager: Interestingly enough, this group was seen as the most solid entering this season, but that hasn't been the case. The Buckeyes have allowed 240.0 yards per game through the air, ranking 76th nationally. Both Wisconsin and Northwestern found a surprising amount of success throwing the ball against Ohio State, though it should be said that many defensive backs struggle to limit UW's Jared Abbrederis. Even so, the group has been slightly disappointing. Losing Bryant did not help vs. Northwestern, but the group as a whole has not lived up to its billing. C

Svoboda: What's there to say about this group that hasn't been said? I think Barnett is playing his ass off but the Buckeyes have given up more through the air than surely they would like this season. It appears to me that the early-season struggles and one-game suspension have led Roby to press too much, as some of the plays he's allowed are uncharacteristic of the returning All-American. Doran Grant has been good, but losing Bryant hurt quite a bit. Corey Brown hasn't jumped off the page and you'd like to see Tyvis Powell make a few more plays, but that'll come. All in all, this group has made some big plays but been victimized, too. C

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