BSB Midseason Gradebook: OSU Defense

Grading the Ohio State defense would seem to be an easy thing to do, but the Buckeye players and coaches give a different impression entirely. No matter what they say, at the halfway point, there is plenty of evidence to indicate Ohio State is having another stellar season on that side of the ball.

The Buckeyes are seventh in the nation in points allowed (12.0 points per game) and check in 12th against the run (89.2 yards per game). Against the pass, they are a suitable 30th (182.7), and when you put it all together, you will find a No. 11 national ranking in total defense (271.8 yards per game.)

Those numbers are all in the top two or three in the Big Ten, although those stats tend to be skewed by the varying degrees of competition each team faces in the nonconference season.

Typically, they all shake out by the end of the year, which perhaps not coincidentally is when the Buckeyes would rather render a grade of their performance.

"You can never go by grades," linebacker Ross Homan said. "We need to get better. We saw that from film. A lot of people don't see that. We need to get better is what I'm looking for. We're up to that challenge and (linebackers coach Luke) Fickell has been challenging us."

History does provide an inspiration for trepidation in premature conclusions.

The 2006 Ohio State defense, which had to replace a number of stars from a very successful 2005 group, put together some gaudy statistics through the first 11 games of the season before falling down a notch or two against Michigan and Florida.

Whether that kind of fate remains for this team, one that appears to be headed for some of its biggest challenges in November, but at this point there is no denying the Buckeyes enjoyed a great first half.

Defensive line

While firm grades are hard to pin down in interviews with various Buckeyes, there is at least one consensus: The defensive line had a great first half.

Much of the credit for Ohio State's success against the run goes to the line, which has had its members both stuff opposing ballcarriers themselves and make it easier for teammates to do so.

When it comes to rushing the passer, the Buckeyes have been no slouches, either.

They have posted at least two sacks in every game and are coming off their best performance, a dominating six-sack game against Wisconsin last week.

Perhaps curiously, the only dissenter in the line of people praising the Ohio State defensive front? Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.

"There's a lot of things we can improve on, and we still have a lot to strive for," Heyward said. "There's a lot of great D-lines out there."

BSB midterm grade: A+


A group with big shoes to fill has done a mostly excellent job so far, but there have been blemishes along the way.

In his first game replacing three-time All-American middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, junior Brian Rolle notched nine tackles, but he and many of his teammates were also a bit bedeviled by the Navy triple-option attack.

Against the Midshipmen, Rolle came up with the last big play the Buckeye defense would need as he intercepted a two-point conversion pass and returned it for two Ohio State points, and he continued his big-play ways a week later when he was all over the field and made eight tackles against USC.

Aside from an interception against Illinois, Rolle has been less of a factor in recent weeks, however, perhaps an indication that opposing teams took notice of his fast start.

On the opposite trajectory is Austin Spitler, the Buckeyes' new Sam linebacker who started the season slowed by a strained calf. He was the target of much criticism from Buckeye fans after his cameo against the Midshipmen, but Spitler's performance has been exemplary since the start of Big Ten play when he has shown a knack for getting in the opposing backfield and controlling the edge against the run.

Then there is Ross Homan. We saved the best for last as the junior and second-year starter is having his best season so far in scarlet and gray.

Homan has excelled all season, making his presence felt against USC with an interception and continuing to play at a high level ever since. He is coming off probably his best game as a Buckeye: 15 tackles, including two sacks, against Wisconsin that earned him Big Ten defensive player of the week honors.

"It's kind of hard to give ourselves a grade," Rolle said. "I just know we have to get better. To put a grade on it,that's not really my job to do. All I can say is we have to keep improving, keep getting better."

BSB midterm grade: B+


Ohio State's defensive backs, another group missing an All-American performer, have been far from a liability so far this season.

Navy slotback Marcus Curry got behind the Buckeye secondary for an 85-yard catch-and-run in the opener, but there have been few yards to be gained against the Scarlet and Gray otherwise.

Ohio State is second in the Big Ten with 10 interceptions, five of which belong to the Buckeye safeties, who have proven almost as adept at scoring points as the have allowing them.

Buckeye defensive backs scored two touchdowns last week and have allowed only four touchdown passes on the year.

Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines both have a pair of interceptions and have been constant factors in stopping the run as well, while Anderson Russell has excelled at nickel back since the start of conference play after giving up Curry's touchdown and losing his starting spot to Hines.

As far as the corners go, Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and Andre Amos have made few missteps while collectively replacing Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins and fellow NFL draftee Donald Washington.

Chekwa lamented the lack of any interceptions for the cornerbacks, though, while giving the group a B.

"Well, we've got to continue to play the defense and do what our coaches tell us to do," Chekwa said. "You might not notice it, but we still make mistakes here and there. We've got to continue to limit those mistakes."

BSB midterm grade: B+

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