Ohio State Offense, Wolverine Defense Likely to Once Again Be Two of the Big Ten's More Formidable Units

By Andrew Ellis on April 14, 2019 at 8:30 am
Don Brown and Ryan Day should once again run the Big Ten.

The 2018 season saw the Big Ten's top teams each have its struggles on one particular side of the ball. Ohio State's offense put up prolific numbers but the defense seemed lost at times; especially in the back seven. Don Brown and Michigan's defense were superb up until the Nov. 24 destruction in Columbus, but the Wolverine offense wasn't exactly electric. 

In Urban Meyer's final season, the Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the country in total offense behind only the Kyler Murray-led Sooners. Ryan Day's first season as offensive coordinator was back in 2017 and his unit finished No. 7 in America. The Wolverine defense has put up back-to-back stellar seasons, finishing No. 2 in 2018 and No. 3 the previous year.

Both units have undergone substantial changes in the offseason with players declaring for the NFL Draft as well as some coaching moves. Still, the Ohio State offense and Michigan defense should again be two of the Big Ten's top storylines for the 2019 season.

Ryan Day is still evaluating the options at quarterback and that battle is expected to go into the summer. Whether it's Justin Fields or Matthew Baldwin, Ohio State's offense showed flashes of its potential at yesterday's spring scrimmage. Several key pieces were missing along the line and a few playmakers were held out, but guys like Binjimen Victor, Jaelen Gill, and true freshman Garrett Wilson all shined on offense.

By the time the quarterback situation is resolved, the team gets healthy, and Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson arrives this summer, Day's offense will be closer to its full form. Is it fair to expect similar numbers to last season? Probably not, but there's no shortage of playmakers even with the losses of Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, and Mike Weber.

Justin Fields flashed in Saturday's spring game.
Justin Fields showed flashes during Saturday's spring game despite the no-contact jersey.

Two hundred miles to the north, an entirely different spring scrimmage was taking place yesterday as the Wolverines look to make strides on offense while overcoming the loss of four of the team's top defenders. With Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, and David Long all off to the NFL, it's now up to Don Brown and Co. to once again assemble one of the nation's top defenses. 

Other than the throttling that took place in Columbus and the loss against Florida in the Peach Bowl, the 2018 campaign was another fine one for the Wolverine defense. Even with the loss of some future first-rounders like Gary and Bush, the expectation is for Brown to put together another fine showing with some newer faces in Ann Arbor.

One of the bigger challenges, however, may be doing so with a new-look defensive staff. Greg Mattison spent nearly a decade in Ann Arbor before making the decision to join Day's staff in Columbus. Linebackers coach Al Washington had been perhaps the best recruiter for the Wolverines, but he too is now at Ohio State. Michigan brought in former Arizona State defensive line coach Shaun Nua and Boston College's Anthony Campanile to help fill the void.

The loss of two key assistants will surely make this year's meeting in Ann Arbor that much more interesting.

Michigan has had a top-10 defense every single year dating back to 2014 and has put together some impressive showings against potent Ohio State offenses; even in defeat. And while replacing several starters on defense is a concern, the team's old-school offensive scheme really seems to be the bigger burden. 

The Wolverine defense is now expected to be led by players like cornerback Lavert Hill, linebacker Josh Ross, viper Khaleke Hudson, and pass rusher Kwity Paye. One of the more interesting things to watch for will be how Brown elects to utilize five-star signee Daxton Hill in the secondary.

Plenty of other Big Ten programs are poised to make some noise on either side of the ball. Purdue and Nebraska's offenses both look to be solid for the coming years and last season the Buckeyes got a taste of just what the Boilermakers can do. The same can be said for a Wisconsin defense that'll look to improve on its 2018 play as well as a young Nittany Lion squad.

The spring practice schedules are now behind us, but there's still a lot to unfold before the season kicks off here in a little over four months. Position battles will wage on, the strength & conditioning programs will be in full force, and the rest of the 2019 signees will arrive this summer to fight for playing time of their own.

Still, even with a number of departures and personnel changes, Ohio State's offense and Michigan's defense may very well be kings of the conference once again in 2019. And it could set up for one heck of a battle on Nov. 30th in Ann Arbor.

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