It has been a strange season to date for Ohio State football this 2021 season. Nobody was expecting an early season loss to Oregon, nobody was expecting to see a leaky defense and of course fans were not exactly patient with a team that was looking to replace several big names that will be in the Buckeyes Football record books for years and year to come.
Now the Buckeyes have the benefit of the open week at the halfway mark of the season, six games in the bag and six games to go. Injuries have time to be tended to, the team can focus on itself a little bit and then a sprint will start with games against three teams currently ranked in the AP top-10.
It gave us the opportunity to turn the Tale of the Tape feature inward and instead of looking at just one opponent, we are looking more at the Buckeyes as a team and the remaining schedule on the board. We started on Tuesday with a look at the offense and now we turn our attention to the defense.
Things got off to such a bad start, many felt there would be no repairing things and a look at the numbers still may create some debate if Ohio State truly has fixed things or just found easier opponents. Those easier opponents will be in short supply over the course of the next six games, but is the path as tough as the AP poll might state or are we still in that gray area created by the uneven scheduling between teams, even within the same conference?
|Total Defense||387.3 YPG||76th|
|Rushing Defense||131.3 YPG||54th|
|Passing Defense||256.0 YPG||102nd|
|Team Pass Eff. Defense||123.36||44th|
|Scoring Defense||20.5 PPG||T-33rd|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct.||41.1%||87th|
|4th Down Conversion Pct.||54.5%||73rd|
|Red Zone Defense||80.0%||T-48th|
Ohio State Secondary & Ohio State Pass Defense
Going into the season there was no bigger question than how the Ohio State secondary would look and then that was even upped going into a Minnesota opener with no Cam Brown and no Sevyn Banks. Things certainly have not been perfect but Ohio State has found itself a future star with Denzel Burke, one of the talented true freshmen that Kerry Coombs had a large hand in landing for the Buckeyes. Many people, present company included, had a different true freshman corner seeing early playing time but Burke has really made a name for himself and locked things down when called upon.
It has been a season of challenges at safety, be it one high safety or two. The loss of Josh Proctor for the season was a difficult one and Ohio State has had to try several people in the position to try and find the right player at the right time. Bryson Shaw continues to see a lot of playing time but Ronnie Hickman has also cemented himself into a major role on the defense and led the Buckeyes with 12 tackles two weeks ago against Rutgers.
Ohio State’s first couple of games against the pass were rough, ultimately with Tulsa throwing for more than 400 yards in a 41-20 Ohio State win. A look at the season stats will show that Ohio State is much more efficient on defense than the passing yards allowed numbers would show. Even with all the issues against the pass, Ohio State has given up 10 passing touchdowns on the year and while that may sound like a lot, which it is, five of them happened in second halves of games, only one during a competitive game (Oregon) meaning that 40-percent of those passing touchdowns happened against 2nd and 3rd stringers. But even six passing touchdowns through six games is more than Ohio State fans are coaches are used to, so there is a lot of work still left to be done.
But the opportunistic defense has made its mark with four straight games with interceptions returned for touchdowns, a school record. Ohio State has nine picks and seven players have recorded interceptions on the year.
The Buckeyes have faced a couple of teams with passing DNA as Maryland led the way in the first six teams with 311 yards per game (Ohio State kept them close at 279 yards) and Oregon averaging 274.8 yards per game (Ohio State held them under at 236, despite the loss). If you took out the Tulsa game, Ohio State would be allowing less than 225 yards per game via the air, but as we have said through the years, you cannot pick and choose the stats that you want to include and don’t want to include, so that 428-yard game counts.
Ohio State will face four offenses that are in the top-40 as passing teams in the next six games with only Indiana (80th) and Michigan (101st) missing the cut. Purdue is the top team at 325.4 yards per game while Michigan State and Penn State are not far off, but questions about Sean Clifford’s availability already are starting to surface after getting knocked out of the Iowa game.
So how did Purdue get to No. 10 in passing offense? It is a mixture of playing teams that are not great against the pass and throwing the ball 58-percent of the time (and averaging 2.8 YPC on the ground doesn’t hurt either). When it comes to opponents and giving up yards, the top defense that the Boilermakers have faced is Minnesota, checking in at No. 71 and everyone falling in below that, even Notre Dame.
When it comes to efficiency, Notre Dame is much better at No. 22 in the nation with Oregon State making it into the top-50 and Minnesota just missing out at No. 51. But, Purdue has come nowhere close to playing an above average pass defense to this point of the season and really won’t until it faces Ohio State with Nebraska and Michigan State both appearing in the top-40, nowhere close to Ohio State’s No. 9 passing offense.
We can’t write a piece without talking about Michigan, even just a little bit. The Wolverines are No. 101 in the nation throwing the ball. The Wolverines have not broken the 260 yard mark throwing the ball this season with two games in the 250-yard range. Of course there was that 44-yard passing game against Washington that people will say ruins the average yardage but 163 against Rutgers doesn’t help either as the passing game has been pretty subpar.
|Penn State||268.3 YPG||40th||12|
|Michigan State||269.7 YPG||39th||14|
Ohio State Linebackers & Ohio State Run Defense
As I was thinking about the idea of writing this piece, the realization struck me that I would not be able to get out of writing a section about the linebackers, no matter how hard I tried or protested. It still has been a bit of a rough go but the Buckeyes are starting to make progress. Steele Chambers has really emerged into a larger role in the defense while Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon saw the main first team reps early in the Maryland game with players like Tommy Eichenberg and Palaie Gaoteote starting to come on as of late.
We can’t talk about Ohio State linebackers without mentioning the sudden departures of players like Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope, it happened and there is nothing you can say to dismiss it, the numbers took a hit. But with fewer numbers the Buckeyes are playing fewer players, with the obvious direct correlation but also because it appears that they have found some things that are starting to work.
Now, nobody is having flashbacks of Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker or Baron Browning right now, but the Buckeyes don’t need guys out there making every play, they need guys who are doing their responsibilities and are not creating liabilities for the Buckeyes and putting everyone behind the eight-ball.
As players understand their positions better and are not caught out in bad situations, the plays are getting better and the numbers are better as well. That does not mean that people are seeing a Jeff Hafley type of defense out there, but once the defense has a moment to settle down, the Buckeyes are doing a much better job of settling down and keeping teams off balance. Now, if the Buckeyes could get a more consistent pass rush, we might be cooking.
So, the Big Ten is supposed to be a running league, right?
Name some of the top backs in the conference not at Ohio State. We will give you a minute.
Penn State can’t run the ball, Indiana can’t run the ball, Purdue has not been able to run the ball for many years, and the beat goes on.
The best rushing offense that the Buckeyes have faced so far this season is Oregon and it lived up to its billing. But CJ Verdell is lost for the season and so goes the Oregon running game. Minnesota had probably the best known back in the league and Mo Ibrahim was hurt in the opener against Ohio State as he was putting up big numbers, Minnesota has now lots its No. 1 backup as well and the Minnesota run game will continue to slide down the rankings.
Over the course of the next six games, Ohio State will face three teams in the bottom 35 nationally running the ball and three teams in the top-21 nationally with Michigan leading the way at No. 8. Michigan has 21 rushing touchdowns on the year, more than Penn State (8), Indiana (7) and Purdue (2) combined. Granted, Michigan is averaging slightly better than one passing TD a game, so it’s run or bust.
To Michigan’s credit, one of its six games has been against a team with a real live rushing defense, Wisconsin leads the nation allowing just 41.4 yards per game on the ground, even better than UGA. The Wolverines ran for 112 yards and a score on 44 carries, and while 2.5 YPC is nothing to write home about, it is still better than the 1.66 YPC average that Wisconsin has put up the rest of the way (Michigan included in that number).
Michigan has faced one other top-40 rush defense with Western Michigan coming in at No. 32. Michigan would run for 351 yards in that game, a 47-14 laugher. But over the course of Michigan’s last three games, all conference games, the yardage number comes down to 142.7 yards per game, and two scores per game, a shadow of the overall number that is propped up by non-conference play.
Ohio State’s biggest challenge at this point appears to be with Michigan State and Kenneth Walker, a transfer back that has broken the 200-ayrd mark in a pair of games and leads the nation with 912 yards. Granted, Rutgers and Northwestern are far from the top run defenses in the nation but putting up 200-plus on the ground is no simple task and only Nebraska has had any success in holding Walker below 5.0 YPC.
|Penn State||128.3 YPG||95th||8|
|Michigan State||217.2 YPG||21st||12|
Ohio State Defensive Line & Ohio State Line Play
Much of the same can be said here as with the linebackers, at least with the defensive ends. Maryland was a step in the right direction with the ends picking up several sacks with Jack Sawyer, JT Tuimoloau and Haskell Garrett each getting credit for either full or partial sacks but it was just Maryland. Sure, the Terps HAD not given up many sacks prior to the game, but Ohio State had Maryland beat very early in this game and the Terps had to try and make things happen and hold on to the ball too long. And we saw that happened there.
We can go through the stats here at length and it is still not going to show the why as to what is wrong with the line play. Some guys have stepped up, namely Tyleik Williams and sometimes these types of situations are what bring out names that were unexpected but the Buckeyes need to have more consistent pressure from the line or Ohio State very well may have to put up 50-plus points per game, no matter what the back seven does.
Of course we can’t write a piece right now without talking about the concern over the health of Garrett, who was led off the field against Maryland and Ryan Day gave a lukewarm answer about his status post game. The Buckeyes will have the open week and even the Indiana week to get Garrett right before Penn State, a game where the Buckeyes will need him, regardless of Penn State’s inability up front as of late.
What about scoring?
As we have said all along, stats are great but this is about points and the Buckeyes can put points up to the tune of 48.5 points per game, No. 3 in the nation. So who can hang with Ohio State? The Buckeyes faced the no. 25 scoring offense earlier in the season and came up short against Oregon, but if that game were played 10 times, how many times would Ohio State lose that game? Two? Three? Less? More?
Outside of the Ducks, only Maryland was averaging more than 30 points per game with everyone else coming in at less than 28 points and Akron barely putting up three scores per game (21.3, good for No. 111).
The second half of the season sees a mix of teams that have put points up and ones that cannot. Indiana and Purdue can’t score, maybe it is something in the water coming out of the Wabash River. Nebraska is putting up close to 32 points per game but that has not been enough to win games, at least the ones that matter. Penn State is putting up just slightly more than 28 per game, only giving up 13.8 per game, but their luck ran out against Iowa, a game that was firmly in hand before Sean Clifford was injured and had to leave the game.
Then you have the two Michigan schools with Sparty putting up 36.7 points per game and Michigan putting up 38.5 points per game. We can say this and that about Michigan but the Wolverines are doing enough to win games. Sure, the Rutgers game was close, the Nebraska game was closer, but they are both wins. Michigan got fat against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Ohio State got fat on Akron, Rutgers and Maryland. It happens. But for having the No. 15 scoring offense in the nation, it is a quiet 38.5 points per game and we will know a lot more in two weeks when Michigan takes on Michigan State to see what we know, and what we think we know.
|Penn State||28.3 PPG||71st|
|Michigan State||36.7 PPG||23rd|