San Diego State allowed a robust 31.6 points per game in 2002. The Aztecs' defense gave up 240 passing yards and 171 rushing yards per game.
This year, they have seven returning starters on a defense that is once again undersized.
The lone returning starter on the defensive line is Brook Miller (6-4, 270, Sr.). He is a former JUCO transfer and had four sacks a season ago.
The first-year starters on the D-line are: DE Brandon Rager (6-3, 245, Sr.), DE Ryan Lata (6-5, 275, Sr.) and DT Blake Lobel (6-3, 255, Jr.). Tackle Freddie McCutcheon (6-0, 300, So.) will also see a lot of time.
It is going to be hard for this D-line to do much of anything against Ohio State's offensive line. Even with the slimmed down OSU linemen, the Buckeyes have a tremendous size advantage over the Aztecs.
All three starting linebackers return for San Diego State. The group includes first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection Kirk Morrison (6-2, 240, Jr.). Last year, the middle linebacker collected 97 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, three sacks and three interceptions.
The other returnees are: SLB Stephen Larsen (6-1, 230, Jr.) and WLB Matt McCoy (6-0, 210, So.).
The SDSU linebackers have decent speed and are the strength of a rather weak defense. They will obviously have to make a lot of big plays to keep the Aztecs in the game on Saturday.
The secondary has three returning starters: CB Jeff Shoate (5-11, 175, Sr.), FS Marviel Underwood (5-11, 195, Jr.) and SS Joshua Dean (6-1, 215, Jr.).
Shoate is the leader of the group. He was a second-team All-MWC pick last year when he had two interceptions and 11 break-ups.
Ohio State's offense should not have much trouble moving the ball on Saturday. The Buckeyes did struggle a bit against SDSU in 2001 (27-12 OSU win), but a lot has changed in two years.
Despite that, the Buckeyes are not ready to give the Aztecs any bulletin board material.
"They have some experience on their defense," OSU tight end Ben Hartsock said. "We played these guys a couple years ago and they have a couple guys that were playing when we played them last time that have some experience now. They are going to be older guys that are going to be looking to try and get back at us for last time."
Hartsock expects to see a quick defense that likes to blitz from all angles.
"I think the thing that they're going to do is attack," Hartsock said. "They're a swarming defense. They're going to be attacking; they're going to be moving all over the place. A little bit undersized – they are not a Big Ten-size school. Up front, they have one guy up around 300 pounds, but on the ends, I think they're 240, or 250. But they're going to be quick and they're going to be moving around.
"They're not going to use much base technique. We're going to have to be ready for them to be twisting, angling, stunting and all sorts of things like that. It's going to be like a swarm of bees."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel also paid some compliments to the SDSU defense.
"In the first 11 possessions, they held Eastern Washington to 44 yards," Tressel said of last week's 19-9 win by SDSU. "They had seven three-and-outs in the game. They can run. The middle linebacker, Morrison, played the whole game against us two years ago.
Tressel, who never seems to forget anything, is quite familiar with one of San Diego's defensive backs.
"No. 26 (Shoate) is a corner who I will be going against for the third time, interestingly enough," he said. "He was a starting cornerback at Montana when we (Youngstown State) played them in the 1999 (Division I-AA) playoffs. He sat out a year at San Diego State, then he played against us here in 2001. He almost picked one off against us.
"Now, two years later, he's a fifth-year senior and an All-American candidate. He's a good football player who loves to compete."
Overall, Tressel thinks the Aztecs are moving in the right direction as a program. They were 4-9 last year against a decent schedule.
"They fly around and show a lot of spunk," Tressel said. "They have speed and they play tough. I see them moving forward with their program. As I watch them, they're building a program."