Practice Habits and Leadership Are Helping Ohio State's Defense Improve

By James Grega on October 16, 2017 at 10:10 am
Tyquan Lewis

Ohio State's defense looks a lot different than it did the first two weeks of the season. 

After splitting their first two games, the Buckeyes ranked dead last in pass defense, allowing more than 400 yards per game through the air to both Indiana and Oklahoma. 

After four straight games of holding opponents under 100 yards passing to move into the top-20 in the country in pass defense, Ohio State surrendered 349 passing yards to Nebraska in a 56-14 win over the Cornhuskers on Saturday night.

However, the Buckeyes allowed 50 or less rushing yards for the third time this season, an effort that wasn't lost on head coach Urban Meyer. 

"You look up at the board, and I saw 300 yards passing. So I am sure there are going to be some issues to deal with," Meyer said. "I think our run defense was outstanding, but there were too many big hits in the pass game."

Nebraska hit on a pair of big passing plays, none bigger than a 77-yard score from quarterback Tanner Lee to JD Spielman, a former Ohio State lacrosse commit and nephew of former Buckeye linebacker Chris Spielman. The younger Spielman finished with 11 receptions for 200 yards, both of which were school records and the biggest performance by a single receiver against Ohio State since Cincinnati's Chris Moore collected 221 receiving yards and three scores against the Buckeyes on Sept. 27, 2014. 

The Buckeyes defense is set for a bye week before preparing to take on perhaps the nation's best running back in Saquon Barkley and mobile quarterback Trace McSorley from Penn State. In two career games against Ohio State, Barkley has rushed for 293 yards on just 38 carries.

While the challenge the Nittany Lions offense presents is likely the greatest since Ohio State's 31-16 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 9, Meyer said he is optimistic about the improvement his defense has made this season, albeit against lesser competition. 

"I love our team. I love the fact that they act like grown men, not a bunch of children that act like fools," Meyer said. "They had a great week of practice. One of the best weeks of practice that we have had."

Most of Ohio State's players have echoed Meyer's comments about the improved practice habits, including Tyquan Lewis, a second-year captain along the Buckeyes' defensive line.

"Practice has been very competitive," Lewis said after the win over Nebraska. "That is how we have been able to put together performances like this."

A season ago, Ohio State was the most inexperienced team in the nation, yet was one game away from making its second appearance in the College Football Playoff in three seasons. One year later, Meyer said he believes his team has been able to build on its momentum not only because of practice, but because of the players leading those practices. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the three players he named are all on defense, a unit that has made great strides since the Oklahoma loss. 

"We are a very mature team. We have some very good leadership on this team. Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Chris Worley," Meyer said. "We have very strong leadership on this team right now." 

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