Ohio State Football: Defenses That Will Give Meyer and Co. the Most Trouble
Urban Meyer at Big Ten Media Days
Urban Meyer has been blessed with a favorable schedule to help develop his spread-option offensive scheme in his first year as a coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
His team will not face a premier defense until the first road trip of the season in a Week 5 battle with a brutal Michigan State unit.
It will then wait another five weeks before taking on a high-quality defensive opponent with the Fighting Illini visiting Columbus, before knocking heads with arguably the best back seven Wisconsin has had in the Bielema era 14 days later.
The usual powerhouse defenses—Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan—will all take a step back from their great defensive performances in 2011 after undergoing significant personnel changes.
That said, here are the opponents that Meyer and Co. will need to spend a little extra preparation time for with the offense.
Illinois Fighting Illini (Week 10)
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If you're an Ohio State fan, you have tried to forget the disturbing offensive performance that the Buckeyes scrounged up against Illinois last season.
Sure, the result was a mark in the win column. But it wasn't pretty.
Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was held on a very tight leash (to say the least), completing just 1-of-4 pass attempts for 17 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 12 times for 34 yards.
Coach Luke Fickell did a nice job controlling the game: Ohio State did not turn the ball over and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt off 51 carries throughout the elongated, agonizing 60 minutes.
But it was something that will never be seen again with Meyer as coach.
The Fighting Illini return a solid group of defensive starters, including tackle Akeem Spence who will likely end with All-Conference honors. First-year coach Tim Beckman will have to find a quick replacement for first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus in terms of a pass rush on the line, but he should have no problems doing so with such talented depth.
The linebackers are extremely athletic with a nose for the ball, and they will co-exist very nicely with the great depth of the d-line. Junior Jonathan Brown is the team's leading tackler (108) from a year ago and should thrive in the middle after making the transition from the weak side.
Only one starter is gone from a very strong secondary: Tavon Wilson. Justin Green looks to take on his role at safety and seems fit for the job.
Ohio State won't run the ball 51 times this season. Ever. But it will need to find a solid game plan if it wants to move the ball against a very stingy Illinois defense.
Wisconsin Badgers (Week 12)
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Wisconsin's defense underachieved in 2011, showing immaturity in prime-time situations while failing to show up towards the latter half of the season.
Through the first six games of the year, the Badgers did not allow over 17 points in any appearance, giving up an average of just 9.7 every time out. However, in the final eight, the defense gave up 33-plus on four separate occasions, allowing 26.0 points per game.
Yes, an argument can be made that it was against the meat of the Big Ten lineup—but let's be honest, Ohio State and Michigan State weren't perennial offensive teams.
But oh, what an offseason can do.
Wisconsin brings a loaded linebacker corps that features weak-side Mike Taylor (150 tackles last season), the power-hitting middle Chris Borland and strong-side Ethan Armstrong. It'll be a wonder how any team will run the ball against them this fall.
And then there's the defensive line, which looks to be a lot bigger, stronger and more experienced. There wasn't much of a pass rush last season, but with a healthy Brendan Kelly in pursuit, all that should change.
When opponents realize they cannot pound the ball against that destructive front seven, they'll try to throw the ball—which will prove to be just as fatal. The secondary is a ball-hawking unit that takes the ball away and doesn't give an inch through the air. Shelton Johnson, Dezmen Southard and Devin Smith make for one scary three-headed monster.
I'm not saying that Wisconsin's defense will be impenetrable, but the Ohio State offense might need a little more magic from Braxton Miller when it visits Madison this November.
Michigan State Spartans (Week 5)
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This should be a no-brainer to those who witnessed the deterioration of the Ohio State offensive line in last year's 10-7 loss at home to Sparty.
Braxton Miller was sacked nine times, the running game was held to 39 yards off 35 attempts and the Buckeyes converted on just 25 percent of their third downs.
Finishing sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total defense, Michigan State could be even better than it was one year ago.
The Spartans return a ton of experience to all three defensive units: The defensive line, linebackers and secondary all look extremely promising, led by four seniors and four juniors.
6'7", 275-pound William Gholston is the heart and soul of a line that finds the backfield regularly. Alongside him are Anthony Rashad White, Tyler Hoover and Marcus Rush—and all are poised to disrupt what offensive coordinators prepped for. The line won't miss a beat without NFL draft pick Jerel Worthy.
The linebacker corps will again be one of the best in the nation with junior Max Bullough in the middle of outsiders Chris Norman and Denicos Allen. The three combined for 238 tackles and 15.5 sacks in 2011.
The starting secondary lineup is stellar, led by Johnny Adams who surprisingly stayed for his senior season. The 5'11", 175-pound future NFL draft selection holds the school record for most interception return yards and is lethal when the ball is thrown his way.
But the best defense in the conference does have a chink in its armor: The depth at corners is lacking, with inexperienced underclassmen as emergency go-to-players. The Spartans cannot afford injuries in the secondary.
Hopefully the Ohio State offense has had enough time to develop by this time, and the offensive line doesn't have a "de-ja-vu" moment in East Lansing.
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