Ohio State was supposed to have the best defensive line in the country.
Heading into the season, the conversation swirled around Clemson's elite defensive front and the Buckeyes, who had stars at every spot of their first and second-team rotations. It was (and remains) an outrageous amount of depth for one college football roster to possess, especially after losing four key contributors from the previous season to the NFL.
The foundation of the unit was superstar defensive end Nick Bosa, whom many projected a future No. 1 overall selection in the upcoming draft. And he was to be supported by fellow-first round talent Dre'Mont Jones on the inside, rising sophomore Chase Young and a rotation of fresh legs that would punish opposing offensive lines.
And through two-and-a-half games, that's exactly what Ohio State had.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 11, 2018
The Buckeyes defensive front had collected 11 sacks through three games, and Bosa fueled the rush, accounting for four himself despite playing in just six total quarters of football.
With Bosa on one side, Jones in the middle and Young on the other side, there were times when it looked like Ohio State was blowing up a screen pass with multiple linemen chasing after an unprotected quarterback.
But when Bosa went down with the core-muscle injury that ultimately cost him the season, the stabilizing force along Ohio State's defensive front was gone. And as a result, the unit struggled with inconsistency.
Collectively, the line registered just 4.5 sacks over the next three games against Tulane, Indiana and Minnesota, but it stepped up in primetime during Ohio State's thrilling come-from behind win over Penn State. Young and Jones combined for three sacks and the front held up on the Nittany Lions' final drive.
But the line (and by extension, the entire defense) got bullied in games against Purdue, Nebraska and Maryland.
After giving up 31 points to a depleted Nebraska offense, Meyer talked about the impact of losing Bosa.
“One of the top five players in America is not playing,” Meyer said. “He’s an inspiration, was a captain, was this, that. But that happened quite a while ago. So what’s the impact? Obviously big. But you’ve got to move on.”
And during the two biggest games of the season, it looks like Ohio State's defensive front is doing just that.
Michigan came into The Game ranked in the Top 20 in sacks allowed, but Ed Warriner's unit surrendered three sacks to the Buckeyes. A week later in the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State tallied five sacks (with Young accounting for three himself) in a 45-24 victory.
That's the lead up for the defensive line heading into its Rose Bowl matchup against Washington. The Buckeyes started hot, faltered after losing their leader and rallied to close strong. Can they put a bow on their season with a strong effort against the Huskies?
That's the goal for Jones, who some thought may skip the Rose Bowl to focus on the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I’m playing [in the Rose Bowl,” Jones affirmed on Wednesday. “I want to finish what I started. With everything we’ve been through, I kind of just don’t want to leave and just do my own thing just yet, because I still have another game to play.”