As the regular season wraps up and the No. 2-ranked Ohio State football team (12-0, 8-0) prepares for the postseason along with a potential shot at the national title, here are The Lantern’s grades for the defensive units and special teams during the regular season.
Defensive Line: A
The Buckeye defensive line has been the highlight of a unit that has struggled this whole season, seeing two Buckeyes named to All-Big Ten teams. Sophomore defensive end Noah Spence, who leads OSU with 7.5 sacks on the year, was named first team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by coaches joining junior defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who was named second team by both. The defensive line has accounted for 30 or OSU’s 39 sacks this year, and have four of the top five players on the team’s sack list. Outside of Spence and Bennett, freshman Joey Bosa and sophomore Adolphus Washington have been standouts this year, with Bosa stepping in when Washington was injured and earning himself a regular starting spot on the line. If the Buckeyes want to stop No. 10 Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) in the Big Ten Championship, the defensive line will need to get pressure on sophomore quarterback Connor Cook.
Although the Buckeyes have a linebacking corps anchored by possibly the best linebacker in America (even if the voters don’t agree), junior Ryan Shazier, it is the rest of the linebackers on the team that have struggled this season. Junior Curtis Grant has missed time with an ankle injury, sitting out all of the Illinois game and missing time in multiple other games, and hasn’t lived up to the high goals set for him before the season. Sophomore Joshua Perry has played well when given the opportunity, and a healthy Grant often prompts defensive coordinators to play with a nickel package which leaves Perry on the sidelines. With that, Perry hasn’t seen the field enough to make a significant impact throughout the year. Backups sophomore Camren Williams and freshman Trey Johnson have had flashes of decent play but are seen as the weak points of the front seven when in the game. Shazier, on the other hand, leads the Big Ten in both tackles, 123, and tackles for loss, 22, the latter of which the closest player to him has 15. Shazier will likely be his usual self against Michigan State, but if the Buckeyes want to keep their undefeated season alive through the Big Ten Championship and beyond, another player will have to step up.
Defensive Backs: D
Redshirt-junior Bradley Roby is first-team All-Big Ten, so there’s that. Otherwise though, the Buckeye secondary has been abysmal this season, even with Roby showing flashes of inconsistency when matched up with high end Big Ten wide receivers. Against OSU this season, the players named to the All-Big Ten list have had a field day. Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, Penn State’s Adam Robinson and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis all tallied more than 170 yards with only Indiana’s Cody Latimer failing to break the century mark against the OSU secondary. The loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a broken left ankle in the Wisconsin game Sept. 28 is still hurting OSU, with redshirt-senior Corey “Pitt” Brown being exposed at times against opposing offenses that like to use the tight ends to move the ball down the field. OSU currently ranks tied for 101st in the country in pass defense, giving up 255.8 yards per game. Although the Spartans do not have the strongest passing offense in America, ranking 97th with 194 yards per game, a potential matchup in the national title with Florida State and redshirt-freshman quarterback Jameis Winston could expose the secondary yet again.
Special Teams: B
The Buckeye special teams started the year off strong, but haven’t been the same unit since Big Ten play began. Against Illinois, the Buckeyes gave up their first punt return for a touchdown this season, and haven’t been forcing fair catches from returners as consistently. Freshman punter Cameron Johnston is averaging 43.6 yards per punt, better than All-Big Ten punters Purdue’s Cody Webster and Michigan State’s Mike Sadler. Senior kicker Drew Basil has also missed only one field goal this season, but also missed his first extra point of the year against the Illini. The punt coverage team has done well other than the mistake against Illinois, with Roby blocking two punts including one he recovered for a touchdown against Northwestern. The return game is still lacking, with running backs freshman Dontre Wilson and redshirt-senior Jordan Hall on kick returns and senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown on punt returns failing to return a kick for a touchdown this year. The special teams have been good but are lacking that special something that makes for a great unit.