How Good Is Ohio State's Defense?

Michael PeriattCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2009

COLUMBUS - SEPTEMBER 8:  Andre Jones #21 of the Akron Zips carries the ball as he is chased by Thaddeus Gibson #37, Eugene Clifford #32 and A.J. Trapasso #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the first half on September 8, 2007 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Ever since Matt Barkley's heartbreaking drive, the Ohio State defense hasn't allowed a single point.

Not one.

I don't know if they're carrying a chip on their shoulder or just hitting their stride, but the two game shut-out streak is the first in thirteen years.

I can't attest for a long Buckeye history (I'm 17 years old), but when I think of classic Buckeye defenses, I think of the 2002 championship team and the 2005 defense.

Amazingly, neither of these legendary defenses ever recorded a shut-out.

Now, both of those defenses were stacked with talent. The 2002 team had Chris Gamble, Mike Doss, Matt Wilhelm, and Will Smith just off the top of my head and the 2005 team had one of the best line backing cores in Ohio State history (Hawk, Carpenter, Schlegel.)

But the current defense really has no identifiable player. Brian Rolle seems to have emerged as a clutch play maker, Coleman seems to have established himself as the leader, and Cameron Heyward seems to be a super-stud. But there are no preseason All Americans and no upperclassmen predicted to go in the first round of the draft (possibly Heyward).

It's really unbelievable they have been this solid.

So how have they done it?

I think it all goes back to the defensive line. The unit is clearly the strong point of the team and is arguably the best in the nation.

USC might have a stable of running backs, but Ohio State has a stable of defensive lineman. And unlike running backs, you can play more than one at a time.

Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward, Dexter Larimore, and Doug Worthington will start it out, but to have quality replacements like Nathan Williams, Soloman Thomas, Lawrence Wilson, Todd Denlinger, John Simon, and Garret Goebel is something that you just don't see. Chances are, many of these guys would be starting on any other team in the nation.These guys are not just big "space fillers," but athletes ready to make plays.

By getting pressure on the quarterback without having to constantly blitz (a luxury OSU hasn't had in forever), it automatically takes a load of pressure off the rest of the defense.

Even against USC, the Buck's defense was only really responsible for one touchdown (the other was on TP for throwing an INT to the one yard line).

The lone sub-par performance was against Navy which is really baffling. It could have been the first game jitters, the corky triple-option offense, or a case of the look-aheads, but the fact remains they gave up 27 points to a service academy.

Following the USC game, the Bucks shut out a Toledo team that has put up at least 31 against every other team they played (including Colorado and Purdue).

They then replicated the feat against a supposed high powered Illinois offense that could very well turn out to be a joke.

So three excellent performances and one flop.

The verdict?

I think this defense is really, really good, but I'm not ready to anoint them as a legendary defense just yet. A legendary defense finds a way to make that stop against USC and they sure as hell don't give up 27 point to a service academy.

One thing that seems very promising is that, with the exception of the USC game, the defense made big plays when they had to. They were bent, but didn't break. In the Navy game, Rolle got the pick-two to save the game. In Toledo, they stripped the ball inside the ten yard line. And against Illinois they got a clutch interception when the Illini were driving and a sack at the end of the game to push them out of field goal range.

I need to apologize to Jim Heacock. For awhile there, I was really calling for his head, but he seems to have gotten it all together. As a fan, you can really see the development of the young guys and their readiness to replace their NFL predecessors.