Buckeye defense looks to slow down UW

The Buckeye defense will have a tough challenge in stopping the air assault of the Washington Huskies. We take a look now at how things match up.

The Ohio State defense will face a tough test against Washington's explosive offense in Saturday night's opener. But, even with five new starters, the Buckeyes are once again loaded on D.

Let's take a closer look at OSU's defense and how it plans on slowing down the Huskies.

DEFENSIVE LINE: This is the strength of OSU's defense and one of the best DLs in the country. The group has three returning starters and a lot of young talent fighting for time. The Bucks are looking to use a 7-8 man rotation, so expect to see a lot of fresh bodies in and out.

Defensive end Will Smith (6-4, 270, Sr.) battled injuries most of last season, but is expected to rack up double-digit sacks this year. The co-captain is explosive off the edge and can bull rush better than he gets credit for. Against the Huskies, his obvious mission is to apply pressure to quarterback Cody Pickett. But, Smith will also drop back into coverage from time to time to mix things up.

Defensive tackle Darrion Scott (6-3, 285, Sr.) had offseason shoulder surgery and has been battling a groin injury all camp. Look for him to play in only about 60 percent of the defense's snaps against Washington. Even a little banged up, Scott is quick and will provide matchup problems with some of UW's mammoth offensive linemen. Scott started at defensive end last year, but did start at DT as a sophomore and says he feels more at home on the inside.

Tim Anderson (6-4, 305, Sr.) is one of the more dominant nose guards in the country and will try and stuff whatever running game the Huskies can muster up. Anderson is known more as a run-stuffer, but has worked hard in the offseason to improve his pass rush skills. He is one of the strongest players on OSU's roster and is a preseason favorite for the Outland Trophy.

Defensive end Simon Fraser (6-6, 265, Jr.) saw a lot of action in a reserve role last season. He is an excellent pass rusher and like Smith will try and harass Pickett all night. Fraser is the only one of the Buckeye linemen that probably won't get double teamed from time to time, so he should have several opportunities to get in the backfield.

Top backups, in order, include: DT Marcus Green (6-3, 290, So.), DE Mike Kudla (6-3, 265, So.), DE Joel Penton (6-5, 275, So.), DT Quinn Pitcock (6-3, 300, Fr.), DT David Patterson (6-3, 290, Fr.) and DE Jay Richardson (6-6, 265, Fr.).

LINEBACKERS: Only one starter returns, but the group is deep and talented. Against pass-happy Washington, expect to see only two OSU linebackers on the field at the same time on most downs.

Outside linebacker Rob Reynolds (6-3, 250, Sr.) returns to the lineup at the Sam spot. He got a lot of work during the preseason at middle linebacker, but it appears as though he'll stay on the outside. "Turbo" has the most experience of the group and will be asked to do a little of everything against Washington, including rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.

Middle linebacker Fred Pagac (6-1, 225, Sr.) is listed as the starter heading into the game. Pagac started a few games as a sophomore in place of the injured Matt Wilhelm and wasn't all that impressive. We'll find out how much he has improved over the last two years. Mike D'Andrea (6-3, 250, So.) will also get a long look in the middle.

Outside linebacker A.J. Hawk (6-2, 240, So.) will start at the Will spot and is probably the most talented player of the group. He saw a lot of playing time as a true freshman and shined. He is a solid player all-around with excellent instincts. Like Reynolds, he will be asked to do a little bit of everything against UW.

Top backups include: OLB Bobby Carpenter (6-4, 250, So.), Thomas Matthews (6-3, 230 Jr.) and MLB Jason Bond (6-3, 250, Sr.).

SECONDARY: The Buckeyes return both corners, but have two new safeties to break in. This group will be under fire all night against the Huskies. The Bucks will be counting on some very young and inexperienced players, especially at safety.

Cornerback Chris Gamble (6-2, 200, Jr.) will probably go up against UW's Reggie Williams most of the night. Williams is one of the premier receivers in the nation, but going up against the best is nothing new to Gamble. He faced Miami's Andre Johnson in the Fiesta Bowl and more than held his own. This year, Gamble has bulked up with the hope of jamming more receivers at the line. We'll find out real quick how strong he is against the physical Williams. Although Gamble is listed as a preseason All-American by most publications, look for the Huskies to test him.

Cornerback Dustin Fox (6-0, 195, Jr.) will probably get a lot of balls thrown his way on Saturday. Fox had a very good 2002 season, with the exception of the Illinois game in which he was a little banged up. Against the Huskies, he has to be careful to not bite on the double moves that UW likes to use. He will probably be matched up with Williams from time to time as the Huskies like to move their star receiver around.

Safety Will Allen (6-2, 195, Sr.) is the elder statesmen of the group and finally cracks the starting lineup after playing nickel back the last two seasons. Allen can obviously come up and make a big hit, but can he avoid getting beat deep? The Huskies are sure to test him with some long balls over the middle. Discipline will be the key for Allen this game.

Safeties Brandon Mitchell (6-3, 200, Fr.) and Nate Salley (6-3, 205, So.) are still battling it out for a starting job and will rotate in and out of the game. In fact, they might be on the field together for much of the night in nickel and dime packages. Both are athletic players that can come up and hit. Salley was impressive last spring and won the job, but Mitchell came on during camp and probably has the edge right now.

Top backups are: CB E.J. Underwood (6-1, 175, So.), S Tyler Everett (6-1, 200, So.), CB Ashton Youboty (6-2, 185, Fr.) and S Donte Whitner (5-11, 185, Fr.). Underwood will see a lot of time at nickel back.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio likes to mix things up and change formations throughout the game. It will be difficult to confuse the veteran Husky offense, but that will be one of Dantonio's goals. He doesn't want Pickett to know which way the Silver Bullets are coming next.

Dantonio is also a master of making halftime adjustments. It was nearly impossible to score on the Buckeyes in the second half last year. If the Bucks happen to be trailing to UW at the break, expect Dantonio to make the correct moves.

You won't see many base formations from the Buckeyes in this game. Expect a host of nickel and dime packages. When they go nickel, look for Pagac (or D'Andrea) to come out and Salley or Mitchell (whoever doesn't start) to come in.

In the dime packages, look for Reynolds to exit and Underwood to come in. This will leave Hawk as the only linebacker. Reynolds will also get a look in dime packages as the solo 'backer.

It is hard to imagine OSU's defensive front not getting pressure on Pickett. Chances are, he will complete his share of passes, but will be running for his life most of the night. Even when they don't sack him, the Bucks will look to hit him (see Dorsey, Ken). Washington has a decent offensive line, but look for it to wear down late in the game against that ferocious Buckeye D-line.

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