Remember how defense wins championships? Ohio State's defense was devastating against the run in 2002 and just plain stingy on the scoreboard. They gave up some yards through the air, but had 30 takeaways to help balance that out. Most impressively, the Buckeyes gave up only 19 touchdowns in 14 games, and only five on the ground. Even scarier for opponents, most of the unit returns for Ohio State's title defense. There are exceptions, however. The five departed starters were outstanding players, especially strong safety Mike Doss and middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm. That tandem were 1-2 among Buckeyes in tackles last season, totaling 228. Still, the Buckeyes are loaded and could very well improve on last season's effort on this side of the ball.
Key 2002 Stats: NCAA rank in ( )
Scoring defense: 13.1 (2)
Rushing yards allowed: 77.7 (3)
Yards per carry: 2.60
Passing yards allowed: 243.14 (95)
Yards per pass: 6.23
Total defense, yards allowed: 320.86 (23)
Yards per play: 4.66
Turnovers forced: 30—12 fumbles recovered, 18 INT
Sacks: 40 for 227 yards
Defensive Line Analysis:
The Buckeyes absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage last season and this unit should be just as good, if not better, in 2003. Last season, the line produced 32 sacks and led a defense that held opponents to 2.0 yards per carry or less eight times, including in four of the last five games. Only four entire teams ran for 100 yards against the Buckeyes, and only three teams average 4.0 yards per carry or more. Only Northwestern (113 and 4.2) and Wisconsin (180 and 4.1) managed both feats against this vaunted defense.
Ohio State loses the production of defensive tackle Kenny Peterson (43 tackles, six sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss) and reserve lineman David Thompson (42-4.5-7.5). Three senior starters return, however, and the lone new starter, end Simon Fraser, is a dynamic player who should be a difference maker as a pass rusher. Fraser had just 20 tackles last season, but seven were for loss and he had five sacks.
Will Smith (59-5.5-12.5) will hold down the other end spot. Smith is only 250 pounds but he is tough against the run in addition to being a solid pass rusher off the edge.
Darrion Scott slides inside to replace Peterson after starting 11 games at end and one at tackle last season. The 271-pounder was the Buckeyes most productive lineman, with 8.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL and 43 tackles. Joining him at tackle is returning starter Tim Anderson (36-2.5-2.5), a workmanlike interior lineman with a knack for controlling the point of tack, taking on blockers and gumming up opposing offenses.
The reserves lack experience, but depth is not a major concern because of the wealth of talent at the Buckeyes' disposal. Still, there are only two reserves with a letter to their credit. They are sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Green (2-0-0) and sophomore end Mike Kudla (12-0-1). Other reserves who will compete for time in the rotation are ends Jay Richardson, Joel Penton, Steve Graaf and Bryce Culver and tackles Quinn Pitcock and Tim Shafer.
The level of talent on this line is undeniable—the Nagurski Award watch list includes Anderson, and Scott. For good reason, Ohio State's line is uniquely lauded. This is the best group in the country.