Ohio State Football: 5 Key Factors to Success on Defense in 2013
Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes were able to finish the 2012 season without losing a single game.
However, the defense did not perform at the level to which Buckeye fans are accustomed. The 2012 Buckeyes finished 34th in total defense, which was nearly 30 yards worse per game than the 2011 defense.
Making the improvement harder will be the loss of seven starters from last season, including all four defensive linemen.
So while the offense figures to pick up where it left off in leading the conference in scoring, the defense will need to reload and rebuild.
Ohio State's defensive success in 2013 will depend on building blocks—the steps this defense needs to take to become a championship-caliber defense.
Next Man Up
The Silver Bullets weren't great in 2012. Heck, in some games they were downright terrible. But every time the Buckeyes needed a stop, the defense came through.
But seven members of that defense are gone.
As always Ohio State has high-profile recruits ready to step into the voids left by John Simon and Zach Boren. But it remains to be seen whether 5-star prospects like Noah Spence, Curtis Grant and Vonn Bell will live up to their potential.
The defense seems to be set coming out of spring practice, but no one will know for sure how the new starters will produce once the games start.
Just look at Grant's inability to keep his spot in 2012. If Grant and the others can nail down their spots, the defense will be fine. If not, then performances like those last year against California and Indiana could be repeated.
Stopping the Run
The key to any great defense is its ability to stop the run.
That's something Ohio State struggled to do early in 2012. But that ended once Zach Boren was inserted into the middle of the defense—the Buckeyes finished 14th in the nation in stopping the run.
Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has said he doesn't worry about stopping the run because that is the No. 1 thing the defense sets out to do. However, without Boren and the four starting defensive linemen it will take some work to maintain their stoutness against opposing rushing attacks.
The good news for Ohio State is that the top four tacklers from the 2012 season are back. The bad news is that three of them play in the secondary.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier will be the backbone of the defense. But he will need defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Tommy Schutt to control the line of scrimmage and some other linebackers like Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry to step up.
Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers has said the nickel is their best defensive package, but if they can't stop the run, then they won't be able to use it as much.
Reliable Safety Net
The Buckeyes' secondary wasn't unscathed by losses to graduation—Travis Howard and Orhian Johnson are both moving on—but at least it returns in better shape than the front-seven.
The two senior safeties, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, combined for 126 tackles in 2012. Perhaps more importantly they cut down on blown assignments and missed tackles that plagued the defense early in the season.
Ohio State also returns Bradley Roby, one of the top cornerbacks in America. Roby should take away half of the field from opposing QBs and allow Bryant and Barnett to lend more help in other areas.
That help could be directed towards Doran Grant, Howard's likely replacement at cornerback, or in run support.
Either way the Buckeyes secondary should provide leadership and a safety net as the new starters up front settle into their roles.
Bringing the Heat
Ohio State ranked 28th in the nation in sacks last season (30). That's not a bad number of sacks, especially in a running conference.
But considering the coaching staff has focused much of the offseason on getting more pressure on QBs, improving upon that number will clearly be a point of emphasis. And without question, the potential to do so is there.
Everett Withers said the defense wants to get more speed on the field and be more aggressive in 2013. That won't necessarily mean constant blitzing, but it will make it more likely.
Judging by the type of players Urban Meyer has recruited since being hired at Ohio State, I would be shocked if the Buckeyes didn't at least try to turn up the pressure on opposing QBs in 2013.
In spring practice the defense experimented with getting more defensive backs on the field. Not only will that add more speed to the Buckeyes defense, but it will also cause confusion for opposing QBs.
But it won't just be the scheme that will allow the Buckeyes to be better at taking the ball from their opponents.
Consider Bradley Roby, the cornerback who led the nation in pass breakups yet only recorded two interceptions all season. Roby and the secondary's pursuit of more interceptions will also be aided should Noah Spence and rest of the Ohio State defensive line jack up the pressure on opposing QBs.