A year after Ohio State ranked 46th in the country in total defense and 112th in pass defense, head coach Urban Meyer knew something needed to change.
Meyer, now in his third year leading the Buckeyes, has since brought in Chris Ash as the team’s new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach and Larry Johnson was hired to guide the defensive line. All of training camp, coaches and players have talked about a much improved, much more aggressive Ohio State defense.
But after senior starting quarterback and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller was recently ruled out for the 2014 season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, all of that discussion has switched over to Ohio State’s offense, and rightfully so.
But while losing Miller will have an immediate impact on Ohio State’s offense, it will also have an effect on the Buckeyes’ much maligned defense to perform at a much higher level than it did a year ago.
“I don’t think there’s more pressure (on the defense),” senior linebacker Curtis Grant said on Wednesday. “We can’t look at it as more pressure, we’ve got to look at it as a good thing as we’re moving forward.”
“If we look at it as more pressure then we get stressed out and things won’t go the way we want them to go because we’ll be all pressured and be worried about making mistakes. We still go out there, have fun and play the game because that’s what we’re here for.”
Ohio State’s offense put up 45.5 points per game last season, while the defense allowed 22.6 points per game and surrendered an average of 377.4 yards per contest. Without Miller, those offensive numbers from a year ago can expect to decline, so there’s some definite cause for concern the defense may not be able to make up for that loss.
“We just have to step up. Plain and simple, just have to step up,” senior cornerback Doran Grant said. “That’s the only thing we can do is step up and move forward and get the job done.”
Ohio State does have the benefit of having some veterans on its defense, though, and will be playing with one of the best defensive lines in the country in Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett. But there are still some question marks at linebacker and in a secondary that ranked 11th in the Big Ten last season in pass defense.
“People can count us out all they want, but it’s about what we can do as a team,” said Curtis Grant, who also noted he had been taking all of the reps with the first-team defense at middle linebacker. “If we don’t stick together then that’s our fault, but we’re determined to stick together and keep moving forward. We have faith in our two quarterbacks that are behind Braxton.”
After losing one of its senior leaders, Ohio State is doing its best to move on. The season has not even started yet and the Buckeyes still have their eyes on winning the Big Ten and qualifying for the first-ever College Football Playoff.
“We’re not changing our goal. We still have the same expectations,” Doran Grant said. “It’s definitely a chip on our shoulder, but with all the critics and everything, we just have to come together and play ball.”