Final Exams: OSU Defense, Special Teams

We have second half grades for the Ohio State defense and special teams and also provide grades on those position units for the 2005 regular season. We examine the final defensive rankings nationally as well. The defense was led by All-American and Lombardi Award-winning linebacker A.J. Hawk. Click here for more.

On Friday, we provided our Final Exam grades for the Ohio State offense.

Today, we take a look at the Final Exam grades for the OSU defense and special teams.

We did Midterm Exams after six games, so the second half grades will be based on the final five games. We then average those two grades for a season grade.

Of course, OSU closed the year with a six-game winning streak to finish at 9-2 overall and 7-1 in Big Ten play, good enough for a share of the conference title.

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

* Scoring Defense -- After six games, OSU was 10th nationally at 15.3 points per game. In the final five games, OSU's foes averaged 14.2 points per game. OSU ended the year seventh nationally in scoring defense (first in the Big Ten) at 14.8 points per game.

* Total Defense -- At the midway point, OSU was ninth nationally at 274.5 yards per game. The Buckeyes ended up fourth nationally (and first in the Big Ten) at 275.3 yards per game.

* Rushing Defense -- In the first half of the season., the Buckeyes were second nationally at 66.2 yards per game. OSU ended up first nationally at 74.5 yards per game on the year.

* Passing Defense -- At the midway point of the year, OSU was 50th nationally at 208.3 yards per game. The Buckeyes ended the season 36th nationally against the pass at 200.8 yards per game.

* Turnover Margin -- After six games, the Buckeyes were 104th nationally at minus-1 turnover per game. They ended the year 93rd nationally at minus-0.64 turnovers per game.

Here go the unit rankings:

Defensive Line

Ohio State only notched five sacks over the last five games of the season. But the Buckeyes were as tough as ever against the run. Only Minnesota, which had 182 yards rushing, eclipsed 100 yards on the ground against the Buckeyes.

The coup de grace was the Michigan game, where the Wolverines netted 32 yards on 24 rushing attempts. That's 48 inches per rushing attempt, if you're scoring at home.

The front was keyed by end Mike Kudla, a first-team All-Big Ten pick, and tackle Quinn Pitcock, a second-team selection. Kudla led the front with 34 tackles, 8-1/2 tackles-for-loss and 6-1/2 sacks. Pitcock had 27 tackles and also blocked a punt out of the "safe" defensive punt formation against Northwestern.

Senior Marcus Green was also strong at tackle. David Patterson continued to log time at end and tackle, but he came off the field in favor of a nickel back down the stretch. In that look, linebacker Bobby Carpenter would move down to an end position (and wreak even more havoc).

With Carpenter iffy for the Fiesta Bowl, it looks like Patterson or fellow end Jay Richardson could be called upon to step up.

Kudla and Green depart after the bowl game, meaning some spots will be wide open for next year.

First Half Grade: B

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: B

Linebackers

At the halfway point, we thought you might be looking at two All-American linebackers … and we were right.

A.J. Hawk, of course, was an unanimous All-American choice and the Lombardi Award winner. Bobby Carpenter was a third-team All-American, according to the AP (even though he somehow only made second-team All-Big Ten). These two guys and middle LB Anthony Schlegel were lights out – and will be sorely missed as all three are seniors.

After notching a season-high 19 tackles in the win over Michigan State, Hawk was solid down the stretch. He ended the year with 109 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss and 7-1/2 sacks.

Carpenter embraced his role as a pass rusher, ending up with eight sacks and 10-1/2 tackles-for-loss. He was lost to a broken leg on the first play of the Michigan game and his status was up in the air for the Fiesta Bowl. Freshman James Laurinaitis filled in for Carpenter and would likely get a chance to play against Notre Dame if Carpenter can't go.

Schlegel ended up second on the team in tackles with 75, including a team-high 10 in the win over Michigan.

With all three of these spots open, OSU will turn to Laurinaitis, Chad Hoobler, Marcus Freeman and, perhaps, the oft-injured Mike D'Andrea, who has received an extra year of eligibility, for 2006.

First Half Grade: A-

Second Half Grade: A

Season Grade: A (and those are hard to get … let's just say I rounded that one up)

Defensive Backs

Three of OSU's starters in the secondary earned first-team All-Big Ten honors with cornerback Ashton Youboty and safeties Nate Salley and Donte Whitner receiving such kudos. The fourth starter, corner Tyler Everett, was solid when he was in the lineup. He missed some time at midseason due to an injury, but freshman Malcolm Jenkins stepped in and OSU never missed a beat. Brandon Mitchell was solid as the nickel back.

Now, there was the Minnesota game, where Youboty was beaten for a few big plays and the Gophers threw for 396 yards. Michigan also completed a few big pass plays, but the OSU defense stiffened at the key points in that classic win.

Whitner may have been the best of the group in 2005. He was third on the team in tackles (64) and tackles-for-loss (nine). He also had four sacks and two interceptions.

Youboty was fourth in tackles (50) and led the team in pass break-ups (eight).

If there was one beef, it was that this unit only had two interceptions in the final five games – although Mitchell returned one of those 57 yards for a touchdown against Indiana. As a team, OSU only intercepted six passes with five of those coming from the secondary.

Salley and Everett are departing seniors, while Youboty and Whitner are at least considering the chance to leave a year early for the NFL. OSU will lean on Jenkins, Mitchell and probably Jamario O'Neal to fill some holes for next year.

First Half Grade: B+

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: A-

Defensive Coaching

OSU was 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 was brilliant.

This unit was lights out all season long. Even the two early season losses could only slightly be pinned on the defense (the Penn State loss was almost entirely on the offense, in fact).

They did a real number on Northwestern, which averaged over 31 points a game. The Wildcats lost at OSU 48-7.

They now get the ultimate test of scheming against Notre Dame, ranked 10th in total offense (489.1 yards per game), and they have to do it likely without Carpenter.

And with just Pitcock, Patterson and maybe Youboty and/or Whitner back next year, it will be back to basics for this side of the ball in the spring. Somehow, we think the dynamic duo of Heacock and Fickell will answer that challenge as well.

First Half Grade: B+

Second Half Grade: A

Season Grade: A-

Special Teams

I'm not sure how the second half could have gone any better in this department. Ginn had a punt return touchdown against Indiana, a 100-yard kick return TD against Minnesota and Hawk returned Pitcock's blocked punt against Northwestern for a score.

For the year, Ginn was first in the Big Ten and third nationally in kick returns at 29.6 yards per return.

Plus, Josh Huston was the first-team All-Big Ten kicker. He made 20 of his 24 field goals with a long kick of 47 yards (one against Iowa and another in the win over Michigan). His misses were from 50, 50, 49 and 46 yards. Huston was also 40 of 41 on PAT attempts.

But the stat that stood out was Huston's whopping 49 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs.

And the Buckeyes were second in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in net punt at 37.5 yards per punt. Freshman A.J. Trapasso averaged 40.4 yards per punt and put 18 of his 42 punts down inside the 20. He only had three touchbacks all year.

Yes, Ginn muffed a pair of punts against OSU, but Buckeyes Antonio Smith and Holmes bailed him out by recovering each of those mistakes. I'm going to act like I did not see those plays when I award this second half grade.

First Half Grade: B

Second Half Grade: A

Season Grade: A-

Here is the link to the Final Exams for the OSU offense:

Final Exams: The OSU Offense


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