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The Defensive Line is Key to Excellent Buckeye Pass Defense
By Patrick Murphy
The defensive line has stepped up big and helped make OSU one of the best defenses in the nation
Photo by Dan Harker
 

COLUMBUS – While taking a break from analyzing and critiquing the Ohio State offense, I realized something pretty impressive: The Buckeyes defense is really darn good.

In reality, I did know the Silver Bullets were playing well this year, but the numbers are still pretty staggering.

The Buckeyes are allowing just 225 total yards per game. The defense has allowed just 106 yards per game on the ground and a remarkable 119 passing yards each outing despite facing three talented quarterbacks.

OSU’s secondary has received praise for this accomplishment.

“I think it starts with the players that we have,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said of his secondary. “They're talented players. They're playing extremely hard. They're playing with a lot of confidence. They believe in themselves, believe in what we ask them to do.”

The Ohio State secondary is filled with skill. Cornerback Eli Apple grew up under fire a year ago and has taken on the number one role. Gareon Conley is in his first year as a starter opposite Apple, but has demonstrated an ability to lockdown an opposing receiver in his first three starts this year. Both safeties, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, are second-year starts and made plays throughout last season.

Despite all that talent, Ash gave the credit for the secondary’s success to an unexpected group.

“It's because of our defensive line,” he said frankly. “It's team defense. It's not about the secondary. It's not about the corners and the safeties. It's about team defense.

OSU only returned two starters from last year’s defensive line in defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and defensive end Joey Bosa, but nose guard Tommy Schutt and defensive end Tyquan Lewis have stepped up to make plays.

The depth of the defensive line this year is a bonus for coach Larry Johnson. With talented players like Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, Michael Hill, Tracy Sprinkle, and Donovan Munger coming off the bench, the starters remain fresh throughout the game.

Pressure on the quarterback make it tough for him to throw
Photo by Jim Davidson
 

This allows the Buckeyes to rush the quarterback at full speed no matter when it is, something they have done well.

“When we have a quarterback running around back there scared to get hit because Joey Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Adolphus Washington are chasing them, that makes a big difference,” Ash said.

The Silver Bullets rank fourth in the country is team sacks with 12 in three games. It has become rare when Ohio State is on defense to not see at least one Buckeye in the backfield pressuring the quarterback.

“We’ve really been working on pass rush moves and Coach Johnson’s been putting an emphasis on getting to the quarterback this year,” Hubbard said on Monday. “Even Coach Ash came into the defensive line room yesterday and told us how important the defensive linemen are to our pass defense and the only reason we’re ranked so high is because of what we do with the front four and getting pressure on the quarterback.”

Sacks on the quarterback and tackles for a loss on runners on are always the goal, but the pressure has caused issues even when it hasn’t gotten to the mark. Quarterbacks are being forced off their preferred spot and having to rush their throws, making it easier on those in coverage.

“We know as linebackers and as DBs that we don’t have to worry about the D-line performing every week because they’re going to come out, they’re going to play up to standard every week,” middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said.

“I know that if I get those front guys set, that they’re going to dominate up front. They’re disrupting passing lanes, they’re eating up run gaps, so we just play off them. Whatever they do, we just play off them.”

The secondary deserves credit for its play so far this year. Apple and Conley have excelled in man-to-man coverage and Bell and Powell are doing a little bit of everything. With that said, these players jobs are made easier by the play of the defensive line, which they know they can count on.

“Our defensive line is playing, to me, the best in the nation,” McMillans said. “You just know that they gonna eat up gaps. They’re going to disrupt the passing lanes and they’re gonna pressure the quarterback on every play.”

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