After Leading the Nation in 2019 with 124 Tackles For Loss, Ohio State's 2020 Defense Will Be Challenged to Achieve Similar Production

By Chris Lauderback on March 5, 2020 at 11:05 am
Baron Browning recorded 10.0 tackles for loss in 2019, good for fourth-most on Ohio State's stellar defense.

It's still difficult to believe Ohio State improved from a No. 71 ranking in total defense in 2018 to the nation's best in 2019, yielding just 259 yards per game, good for an improvement of over 140 yards per contest. 

The pass defense made up most of that ground. After ranking No. 86 in the land giving up 245 yards every Saturday, Ohio State gave up a national-best 156 yards per game last season. 

Another key factor in the defense's remarkable turnaround came as the front seven put tremendous pressure on the line of scrimmage while the secondary blanketed receivers resulting in 124 tackles for loss, a tally which served as the most in the country. 

Those 124 negative yardage plays created were also the most by the Buckeyes in school history beating the previous record of 117 set back in 2000. 

Second in the country to only UCF in tackles for loss per game with 8.86, the Buckeyes also ranked second in tackles for loss yardage with 494, just 10 behind Clemson. 

Chase Young led the way with 21 tackles for loss in 12 games to rank No. 4 in the nation in both total tackles for loss and tackles for loss per game. 

Behind Young, weakside linebacker Malik Harrison turned in a stellar season with 16.5 tackles for loss, good for 23rd in the country. 

It might surprise you but interior defensive lineman Davon Hamilton ranked third on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss while fellow senior defensive linemen Jashon Cornell (6.5) and Robert Landers (6) ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. 

Those five players totaled 60.5 tackles for loss for 278 yards while a handful of other non-returning players pushed the exiting numbers to 65.5 tackles for loss and 297 yards. 

Basically, the 2020 Buckeyes, if they wish to keep pace with last year's group, must replace 53% of the tackles for loss and 60% of the yardage created by those plays. 

That will certainly be a tall order and not necessarily a must-do but even coming remotely close to the 2019 output will be quite the chore based on the fact Young, Harrison, Hamilton, Cornell and Landers won't be running out of the Ohio Stadium tunnel this fall. 

Leading the charge this year should be Baron Browning. The former reserve Mike linebacker is in line to replace Harrison and ranked fourth on the squad with 10 tackles for loss in 2019 despite just 368 snaps, or roughly 52% of Harrison's snap count (701). 

Browning is at his best when he can be turned loose on the blitz or even line up as an edge pass rusher – versus having so much pre-snap responsibility for the defense as a whole – so it makes sense that Kerry Coombs and Greg Mattison will do all they can to take advantage of his skill set. 

The former five-star recruit arrived at Ohio State as an outside linebacker and his apparent return to a natural position after seeing most of his snaps over the last three seasons come at the Mike spot should bode well for Browning's ability to create havoc. 

Browning certainly seemed excited about the move in speaking with reporters yesterday offering, "I feel like that's something I'm comfortable doing. I'm just excited and looking forward to it. I can't wait to get back out there this spring and get some reps at it." 

2019 124 1 494 2 8.86 2
2018 99 17 421 9 7.07 28
2017 114 8 479 1 8.14 8
2016 87 35 357 31 6.69 34
2015 83 54 330 48 6.39 60
2014 110 5 449 8 7.33 14
2013 91 19 382 14 6.50 36
2012 88 64 347 31 5.33 79

Fellow linebacker Pete Werner registered 5.5 tackles for loss last season, good for seventh-most on the 2019 defense, and while he's most likely slotted to return at his strongside linebacker spot, he did see reps in Harrison's vacated spot during Ohio State's first spring practice on Monday. 

More than likely, Werner should turn in a similar, maybe slightly elevated tally to his 2019 output this fall as he continues to offer steady run support. 

The most likely player to join Browning in double-digit tackles for loss this year is defensive end Zach Harrison. As a true freshman, the athletic freak generated five tackles for loss (3.5 sacks) in just 284 snaps, or about 49% of Young's 577 snaps. 

A more seasoned player this fall, Harrison could be poised to not just reach double-digit tackles for loss but double-digit sacks as well. 

Similarly, fellow defensive end Tyreke Smith went for five tackles for loss last fall (3.0 sacks) in only 243 snaps, or about 42% of Young's snaps. Smith feels like a bit of a forgotten man to some thanks to injuries but if he can stay healthy, he should also make a run at double-digit tackles for loss, if not sacks. 

A bit of a wildcard off the edge, Jonathon Cooper returns hungry after playing just four games last year and taking a medical redshirt. The former five-star has 11.5 tackles for loss in 29 career games, making it hard to predict a major leap in 2020. 

His projected backup, Tyler Friday, managed three tackles for loss in 11 games (220 snaps) last season. 

On the interior, replacing the 23 tackles for loss generated by Hamilton, Cornell and Landers falls on names like Tommy Togiai, Taron Vincent, Antwaun Jackson and Haskell Garrett. 

Togiai actually logged virtually the same number of snaps as Landers last year (250 to 253) and came up with two tackles for loss while Jackson led the returning interior guys with 3.5 in just 201 snaps. 

In the secondary, Shaun Wade leads the returning players with four tackles for loss last season as the slot cornerback but it might be tough for him to reach that number as he shifts to the primary outside cornerback in Coombs' secondary. 

It seems more likely someone such as Sevyn Banks, who could slide into Wade's vacated role, might emerge as the primary defensive back to offer help in generating negative plays from the secondary. If not Banks, maybe a name like Marcus Williamson could surprise. 

Ohio State's defense is stocked with talent even with the noted major losses – no doubt about it – but it will be interesting to see how effectively this year's group can get offenses off schedule in comparison to last year's historic effort. 

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