The Key to an Improved Ohio State Defense
However, I'm taking a different angle on where the key to a much improved Ohio State defense lies: I think it's the defensive line.
I know, I know. It was arguably the only real bright spot on what amounted to a subpar (at best) defensive unit. Hear me out.
Although the front four did play well at times last season, overall I thought they were awfully inconsistent. The secondary was no doubt porous (putting it lightly), but a consistent pass rush is an important facet that has been absent the past two seasons.
A strong defensive line does two big things for a team:
One, it clogs up running lanes for opposing offenses and shuts down their running backs before they're able to get to the second level.
It isn't flashy or sexy, but consistently swallowing up running backs and forcing them to bounce outside is a very underrated part of a great defense. Holding a rushing attack to around 3-3.5 yards per carry (especially on first and second down) can completely throw off the opponent's game plan and get them out of sync.
Two, it makes the opposing quarterback uncomfortable and prevents him from getting into a rhythm.
If you have the slightest bit of football knowledge, you can tell when a quarterback looks shaky in the pocket. More often than not, that is a result of the defensive line breathing down his neck play after play.
This prevents the quarterback from having a clean pocket to step and throw out of, it prevents him from progressing through his reads comfortably, and prevents him from getting into the overall flow of the game. And if the quarterback doesn't have it going, the rest of the offense probably won't either.
It's a football cliche, but games really are won at the line of scrimmage. That is why getting the most of their talent along the defensive line is the key to the Buckeyes improving on that side of the ball in 2014.
The starting four is already pretty much set in stone. Joey Bosa and Noah Spence (once his suspension is completed by Week 3) coming off the ends, and Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett holding down the middle.
New defensive line coach Larry Johnson has said he wants to rotate much more frequently with his unit than former coach Mike Vrabel did, keeping fresh bodies in the game at all times to maximize the talent and depth they possess along the front four.
Last year, the starters would stay on the field for almost the entire game, which would amount to 80-90 snaps every Saturday. As the game went on, they would wear down, which contributed to the inconsistency along the d-line, especially in the last three games of the season against Michigan, Michigan State, and Clemson.
If guys like Bosa and Bennett can cut down their snaps to 55-60 a game, it will allow them to maximize their opportunities when they are in the game and keep them fresh for the entire 13- or 14-game season.
This means that Buckeye fans can expect to see quite a bit of redshirt freshmen Michael Hill and Donovan Munger, senior Steve Miller, juniors Jamal Marcus and Chris Carter, and sophomore Tyquan Lewis, all of whom are very talented players in their own right.
If coach Johnson and coach Luke Fickell can keep fresh legs along the defensive line throughout the entire season, it will give the Buckeyes a big advantage in the trenches.
The starting four of Bosa, Spence, Bennett, and Washington has the talent to be one of the premier defensive lines in the entire country. They're good enough to completely take over a game in the fourth quarter if they're healthy and energized.
If they can take the step to becoming one of the premier defensive lines in the country, that alone will vastly improve a Buckeye defense that was putrid for stretches the past two seasons, and it will put Urban Meyer's team in a great position to compete for a national championship once again in 2014.