Midterm Exams: OSU Defense, Special Teams

Ohio State ranks second nationally in rushing defense, ninth in total defense and 10th in scoring defense. Those are strong numbers as we assess that unit's first-half performance. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, with eight sacks, has been a big help as he has repped as a rush end. Click here for more.

On Wednesday, we provided our Midterm Exam grades for the Ohio State offense. Today, we take a look at the OSU defense and special teams.

Before we look at each position group, let's examine the unit rankings for the defense.

* Scoring Defense -- OSU is first in the Big Ten and 10th nationally at 15.3 points per game.

* Total Defense -- OSU is first in the conference and ninth nationally at 274.5 yards per game.

* Rushing Defense -- The Buckeyes are first in the Big Ten and second nationally at 66.2 yards per game.

* Passing Defense -- OSU is fourth in the Big Ten and 50th nationally at 208.3 yards per game.

* Turnover Margin -- The Buckeyes are 11th in the Big Ten and 104th nationally at minus-1 turnover per game.

Here go the unit rankings:

Defensive Line

Sometimes, less is more. That's been the case for the Buckeyes up front on defense. One of their nickel looks has called for one of the ends to leave the field, allowing outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter to act as a rush end. That move has energized the defense.

Looking strictly at the defensive linemen, David Patterson seems to be coming into his own. He tallied three sacks against Michigan State. Even better, he can play tackle or end.

Mike Kudla has been solid at the end position as well. The interior spots are manned by veterans Quinn Pitcock and Marcus Green. Everybody wants to knight the linebackers, but OSU's success against the run begins with the play of these guys up front.

The recipe for the second half here will be to create more negative plays, particularly a few turnovers.

First Half Grade: B


It is possible that you could be looking at two All-American linebackers here with A.J. Hawk, the Butkus Award front runner, and Carpenter, third nationally in sacks per game, at 1.33.

Hawk leads OSU with 68 stops, while Carpenter has 10-1/2 tackles-for-loss. Both of them seem destined for first-round draft status in the spring. Carpenter's shuffle to end in clear passing situations has been a stroke of genius and he is coming off an amazing four-sack game against MSU.

Middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel has been quietly effective. He whiffed on a blitz in the Texas game – a play that may haunt him for a while. Otherwise, he has been pretty solid.

I could give these guys an A, but with two losses – and a few missed assignments against QB Vince Young in the Texas loss -- nobody merits such high praise.

First Half Grade: A-

Defensive Backs

The secondary has been strong. Three starters were back with Nate Salley and Donte Whitner at the safeties and Ashton Youboty at cornerback. Tyler Everett moved from safety to corner and was doing fine there until going down with an injury against MSU.

True freshman Malcolm Jenkins has come up big as the nickel back and now replaces Everett at least for the time being at corner.

There are only two areas of concern here. OSU only has four interceptions – Illinois is the only Big Ten team with fewer. And, there was a costly secondary gaffe that paved the way for Texas' game winning touchdown.

Withstanding Everett's injury and coming up with some turnovers will be the key to the second half here.

First Half Grade: B+

Defensive Coaching

OSU is under its third different coordinator in three seasons as Jim Heacock, assisted by Luke Fickell, assumed control of the defense after Mark Snyder became the head coach at Marshall in April.

How can you possibly quibble with those national rankings we outlined above? The move of Carpenter to almost a full-time end has been brilliant. The defense was fairly much left for dead against Texas and Penn State. Those two teams combined for 42 points, but OSU lost them both.

The biggest indicator here was just this past week as Michigan State held the ball for over 40 minutes and ran 87 plays, but still scored just 24 points.

Challenges abound down the stretch, including Minnesota's big run game, Northwestern's high powered spread and, yes, even Michigan's inconsistent but explosive attack in the season finale.

What tricks do Heacock, Fickell and secondary coaches Tim Beckman and Paul Haynes, a pair of guys who seem like great hires, have left up their sleeves?

First Half Grade: B+

Special Teams

This has been a mixed bag. With Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. back on the returns, big things were expected. But OSU is 90th nationally on kick returns (19.0 average) and 43rd on punt returns (10.1 average). After seeing five punts brought back a year ago, the Buckeyes are waiting for their first return for a score, although Ginn did have one called back.

OSU is first in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in net punt (40.0 average). That is a tribute to redshirt freshman A.J. Trapasso and the job he's done. And Josh Huston, a sixth year senior, is 11 of 13 on field goals with a long of 47. His 50-yard miss against Texas did factor into the final outcome, however. Huston has been dynamite on kickoffs, even putting one through the uprights last week against Michigan State.

The field goal block unit struck twice last week against MSU, helping to fuel the win over the Spartans.

All the way around, not bad. The MSU game was a start and more game changing plays would certainly be appreciated.

First Half Grade: B

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