The Ohio State offense is not off to a strong start.
Among a weekly quarterback controversy, five turnovers in its last game and a 33.3 percent third-down conversion rate that ranks 102nd in the nation, the Buckeyes’ offense is not making things easy for its defensive teammates on the other side of the ball.
Still, that has not slowed down the enthusiasm or confidence of the “Silver Bullets.”
“We’ve got the mindset that if we have to win the game 3-0, that’s just how we’re going to win the game,” sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “We can’t depend on anybody else, we just have to go out there and stop their offense and do our job, and then everything will take care of itself.”
Through three games against Virginia Tech, Hawaii and Northern Illinois, OSU has allowed just 225 yards per game, the fifth fewest in the country. The 119 passing yards allowed per game also ranks fifth, and that includes meetings with Hawaii’s Max Wittek (67 passing yards vs. OSU, 237 yards per game in the other two) and NIU’s Drew Hare (80, 359).
OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said the talent and work ethic of the members of the secondary have enabled them to become a shutdown defense.
“I think it starts with the players that we have,” Ash said. “They’re talented players. They’re playing extremely hard. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They believe in themselves, believe in what we ask them to do.”
Cornerback Eli Apple, who has an interception and a fumble recovery through three games, offered an alternative credit: the pass-rushing abilities of the front four on the defensive line.
“Any time you get a team in passing situations, and you just let our front four get out and rush the passer, you can feel the quarterback wanting to take faster throws,” the redshirt sophomore said. “We have great pass rushers, so we know that we can just sit on routes and be a little bit more aggressive because we know the ball is going to come out faster.”
The Buckeyes have 12 sacks in their first three games, including at least half-sack credits to nine different players.
“Our defensive line is playing the best, to me the best in the nation,” McMillan said. “You just know they’re going to disrupt passing lanes, they’re going to pressure the quarterback on every play. We know as linebackers that we don’t have to worry about the D-line performing every week, because they’re going to play outstanding.”
So while the offense has started the season in a manner that has made games against heavy underdogs Hawaii and Northern Illinois more interesting for much of the contest than OSU expected, the defense has come through to keep the team 3-0 and No. 1 in the country.
Ash said that dynamic is the opposite of what he had seen throughout much of his first year in Columbus in 2014, and it is something that any team must be able to deal with in order to succeed.
“Offensively there are going to be great days and there are going to be bad days. Defensively, there are going to be great games and already going to be bad games,” Ash said. “But the true measure of a great team is you can balance each other out and pull through tough times when one side of the ball maybe didn’t have a great game or the other side of the ball didn’t; the playmakers on the opposite side pulled the team through and you get a victory.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer promised the members of his defense that much of the burden would be lifted from their shoulders and the offense would improve rapidly after Saturday’s game, according to Apple. Still, Ash said he has his defense prepared to play at its current level regardless of what happens while the offense takes the field.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the offense does,” Ash said. “If they score 50 points or five points, we have a job to do, and it’s to go out there and limit points and keep the opponent out of the end zone.”
OSU is next set to take the field on Saturday against Western Michigan. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.