No Rhyme, Reason To Inconsistent Defense

Through the first 10 games, you never know what you're going to get out of the Ohio State defense. The young Buckeyes have shut down some opponents and struggled against others, something we look into in this piece.

As far as the Silver Bullets defense goes, there was plenty for Ohio State players, coaches and fans to be disappointed about following the 60-35 win at Illinois. Statistics might suggest that expectations were too high coming into the game to begin with, however.

Against Illinois' 59th-ranked scoring offence and the 56th-ranked total offense (424.8 yards per game), Ohio State allowed Illinois to score above its 30.2 points per game average and gather yardage – 420 total yards against the Buckeyes – that was close to par for its season average.

Disappointment in the defense after the Illinois win was tangible, especially considering Ohio State had shutout Purdue and held Penn State to just 14 points in the two previous games.

"I'm not satisfied because you don't want anyone to score any points on you, but 35 is way too much," said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had 16 tackles in the game.

But what should qualify as satisfactory for Shazier and his defensive counterparts at this point, and what should fans reasonably expect from this hard-to-predict unit for the rest of the current campaign?

A cursory review of Ohio State's 2013 results this year reveals a few noteworthy defensive games, and those came against San Diego State, Florida A&M, Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue. Against the Aztecs, Ohio State held the visitors to seven points in a 42-7 win. The catch there is that San Diego State plays in the Mountain West Conference, a non-BCS league, and has an offense currently ranked 67th in scoring.

Next came a 76-0 shutout of Florida A&M, but that's hardly any indication of what the Buckeyes are capable of considering the Rattlers are a Football Championship Subdivision team. Most recently the Silver Bullets allowed 14 points to Penn State's 62nd-ranked scoring offense and followed that up by shutting out hapless Purdue, ranked 119th out of 123 teams in scoring offense.

The outlier among the Buckeyes best defensive games, and an exception to strong games against weak opponents, is the 31-24 win against Wisconsin, currently the No. 19 scoring offense in America with more than 38 points scored per game. Ohio State also limited the Badgers' formidable running attack to 104 rushing yards in the contest and held Wisconsin to 14 points below its current per-game scoring average.

But the Wisconsin win was followed by more shaky defensive play in a 40-30 win against Northwestern, the 77th-ranked scoring offense in the country, and then another less-than-desirable outing against Iowa's 78th-ranked scoring offense two weeks later in a 34-24 win at Ohio Stadium. Then came Penn State, Purdue and Illinois, and let's not forget the troubling play against California's 93rd-ranked scoring team in the third game of the season. The Buckeyes still cruised to a double-digit victory but allowed 34 points to a Golden Bears team currently sitting at 1-10 overall.

In summation, it's hard to see a clear trend from Ohio State's body of defensive work at this late stage in 2013. Of the Buckeyes' most recent results, this much is clear: A streak of seemingly dominant defensive efforts against an average Penn State offense and lowly Purdue – both of which started true freshmen at quarterback – was interrupted by Illinois, which ranks just three spots higher than the Nittany Lions in scoring offense. That's not positive.

It is worth noting that Ohio State did significant lineup shuffling against the Fighting Illini as linebackers Curtis Grant and Josh Perry were absent from the game. It's impossible to know if the game would have been any different with Grant and Perry in the lineup, but players, coaches and fans surely hope is the case.

Ohio State won't catch a break this weekend when Indiana comes to close out the home portion of the Buckeyes 2013 schedule, and the Hoosiers are the highest-ranked scoring offense Ohio State could face all regular season, ranking 14th in the country with an average of more than 39 points per game.

That doesn't mean Ohio State is in grave danger of losing the contest, of course, as Indiana has the 122nd-ranked total defense in the country. Spoken differently, the Hoosiers' defense is second to last in all of FBS football.

As far as the Buckeyes hard-to-predict defense is concerned, a dominant effort against the Hoosiers could easily rival what the Buckeyes accomplished against the prolific Wisconsin offense, but the numbers indicate that won't happen.

The trend for Ohio State's defense is one of unpredictability, but after the effort against a competent Illinois team but one that still carries only a middle-of-the-pack ranking in terms of scoring offense, there's cause for concern in Indiana's top-15 offense.

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