Halfway through the season, the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0) are already bowl eligible. As the team gets ready for the stretch run, here are the grades for each defensive unit, in addition to the special teams, through six games.
Defensive line: B+
Outside of a disappointing season opener against Buffalo Aug. 31, the Buckeyes’ defensive line has been the highlight of the defense so far this year. With 16 team sacks, 13 from defensive linemen, the Buckeyes have been putting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks so far in 2013. Newer contributors like sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, and junior Joel Hale, have been vital to the defense. A real standout has been freshman Joey Bosa, who came in as a replacement for Washington when he was out with a groin injury. Bosa has recorded 16 total tackles and two sacks this season. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown at Northwestern Oct. 5. Bosa was named the starter at defensive end ahead of Washington for the game against Iowa. With quarterbacks like Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Penn State’s Christian Hackenburg still on the schedule, though, the defensive line needs to keep the pressure up.
If it was not for junior Ryan Shazier being everything the Buckeye linebacking corps could have asked for and more, this section of the defensive unit would be struggling to live up to coach Urban Meyer’s standards. Shazier leads the team with 47 tackles, has a sack and forced two fumbles. The guy has been everywhere, and is well on his way to earning an All-Big Ten honor by season’s end. Classmate Curtis Grant is also turning in a fine season thus far, and is second to Shazier with 36 tackles. He also has a pair of sacks, and has stepped in nicely for defensive coordinator Luke Fickell in his first year as a starter. OSU’s third starter at the position, Joshua Perry, has been less impressive than his teammates so far with only 19 tackles, which ranks as ninth best on the team. That is partly because Perry is not on the field as much, since OSU has been playing a lot of nickel and dime defenses. Perry’s been solid, but has yet to make the big plays like Shazier and Grant have. The group will have to continue to grow together and play well late into the season, as the weather turns colder and opponents could look to run the ball more.
Defensive backs: D
Six games into the season, the OSU defense is ranked 77th in the country in terms of pass defense, giving up an average of 240 yards a game. These numbers could be worse if it not for the Buckeyes’ light schedule. Excluding California, which ranks No. 5 in the nation in passing with an average of 368 yards per game, no passing offense OSU has faced so far this season ranks in the top third of all teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. At times, redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby has looked lost against top talent, Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis and California’s Chris Harper, despite coming into the year as a preseason All-American. Junior cornerback Doran Grant has played well, but hasn’t been forced to do as much because a majority of the focus is put on Roby. The loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle against Wisconsin hurts an already disappointing unit that needs to get better if OSU wants to compete with the upper tier teams in the nation.
Special teams: B
Meyer, as a coach, has always been vocal about the importance of special teams. So far this season, that has been made clear. The kicking game has been running on all cylinders so far, with freshman punter Cameron Johnston averaging more than 40 yards a punt and senior kicker Drew Basil hitting all 36 of his attempted kicks this season, five field goals and 31 extra points. Roby also blocked and recovered a punt in the end zone against Northwestern, the Buckeyes’ only touchdown in the first half against the Wildcats. The only disappointment on special teams so far has been the return game. Although freshman running back Dontre Wilson has been electric returning kicks, he hasn’t made a significant impact on any given game with a return yet, and no Buckeye has a touchdown from a punt or kick return so far in 2013.