Last season, Ohio State football fans saw Josh Perry and Darron Lee develop into NFL-quality linebackers. Major concerns before the start of the new year for the Buckeyes were the ability of new starters — junior Dante Booker and redshirt junior Chris Worley — to fill the holes left by the NFL draftees, and how well junior Raekwon McMillan would lead the unit.
So far, Buckeye fans have little to complain about in terms of production from that position. After allowing 208 yards rushing in its first two games last year, OSU has allowed just 130 yards to this point on the ground.
In addition to being stout against the run, OSU’s linebacker unit has not allowed opponents to score a touchdown. McMillan has credited much of the success to the play of the guys around him.
“Every time I turn my head, somebody’s making a great play here,” McMillan said. “I’m just trying to find my ins and outs, trying to find my plays here and there. The guys around me are making me look good.”
McMillan went on to thank the defensive line, as well as all of his teammates, for the high level they have played at so far.
Although the man in the middle for the Buckeyes is considered to be the leader of the unit, Worley has been around for a longer period of time than McMillan with OSU. The fourth-year strongside linebacker played in 14 of 15 games for the national championship team in 2014, and recorded his first sack last season.
Worley recorded four total tackles against Tulsa, while also defending two passes. His play earned him a champion grade from the OSU coaching staff.
On the other side, Booker picked up two tackles against Bowling Green in Week 1, but suffered a sprained right knee and did not play against Tulsa. Redshirt freshman weakside linebacker Jerome Baker filled in against Tulsa, picking up five tackles and a fumble recovery.
McMillan said he appreciated how well Baker communicated with the team, and how effective he was in his fill-in role.
Linebackers have been solid for OSU so far, but will face their biggest challenge against Oklahoma. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have been the catalysts to a powerful Oklahoma offense.
OSU defensive coordinator and associate head coach Greg Schiano knows how tough the task will be for the team come Saturday.
“A lot of these guys have never been in this situation. A few of them have but a lot of them haven’t,” Schiano said. “As a coach, you just try to prepare them the best they can. I believe we have the right people here, but that gap between knowing and doing is the biggest gap there is.”