The Big Ten is known as a defense-first conference. I can tell you firsthand that the pride and joy of most Big Ten fanbases are the power running games their teams feature and their staunch defenses. In the Big Ten, you’re nothing without a good defense. While I wrote about the Buckeye offense being such a strong asset to the Buckeye’s game plan, their defense is no joke.
They opened the season with a 40-20 victory over the Buffalo Bulls, and they routed the San Diego State Aztecs this past weekend 42-7.
A key to the Buckeyes success through the first two games has been their success in keeping opposing offenses off the field for extended periods of time. In their first two games this season, the Buckeyes have held opposing offenses to 6-for-30 on third down. That means that combined, Buffalo and San Diego State converted on third down just 20% of the time. That’s unheard of. They also won the time of possession battle, where they held both the Bulls and Aztecs to under 30 minutes.
When teams are on the field against this defense, they can’t do much of anything anyway. The front-seven has been effective, holding the opposing run games to under 2.5 yards per carry. In fact, neither team rushed for over 75 yards this season. The secondary has been able to create turnovers, picking off three passes and deflecting 10 passes so far this season. Not to mention, the longest play they’ve given up so far this season is a 25-yard reception to Buffalo running back Devin Campbell.
To put that in prospective, the Golden Bears have already given up three plays of over 50-yards in their two games this season.
Ohio State starts with junior cornerback Bradley Roby, who missed the Buffalo game while serving a one-game suspension for a being charged with a disorderly conduct charge that was later dismissed. He came back against San Diego State and had a good game with four tackles and a pass deflection. He also shut down parts of the field, allowing his counterparts Armani Reeves and Doran Grant to have outstanding outings against the Aztecs. Both ended the game with an interception, Grant ended the evening with four tackles and a pass deflection, and Reeves had 5 tackles and a pass deflection. Also, someone to watch in that Buckeye defensive backfield is Ron Tanner, who picked up the sole interception in the Buffalo game.
And unlike the Buffalo game, where there were extra offensive chances – thus more scoring opportunities for the opposing team – Ohio State never let Quinn Kaehler (San Diego State’s quarterback) get on track. In fact, the only Aztec score came in the fourth quarter after the score was 42-0 and Ohio State had pulled their starters out.
Most of that came from the outstanding pressure Ohio State’s front end was able to put on Kaehler came in the form of 3 sacks. Meanwhile, Ohio State was unable to do that against Buffalo, only sacking Joe Licata once.
The keys to the seven being dominant like they were against San Diego State (rather than their sloppy performance against Buffalo) starts with the play of sophomore Noah Spence. The end leads the team in sacks (1.5) and has the most tackles for a loss on the team (2.5). He needs to eat up the Cal offensive line in order to put the pressure on Jared Goff, and if he does that, it could be a long day for Cal. Spence won’t be alone, as linebacker Ryan Shazier is probably the best defensive player on the Buckeyes’ roster. Shazier was ranked in the top ten of five different Big Ten statistical categories last year as a true sophomore. He already has 12 tackles and a pass deflection to start the season.
The last guy to really spotlight for the Buckeyes has to be linebacker Curtis Grant. Grant had only 10 tackles in 18 appearances entering the season, but due to the fact that this defense was without any seniors at the linebacker position, this junior became the heir-apperent to the middle linebacker spot. Grant went into the spring a favorite to start this season and did enough to impress Urban Meyer and his staff. He was named the starting middle linebacker when camp broke for the summer. He has not disappointed so far this season, leading the team in tackles (13) and positioning himself in the middle of a good number of plays. He is a playmaker and a star in the making. And while statistically his numbers were a wash, his play against San Diego State was way better than how he played in the Buffalo game.
When it comes down to it, this will be the best defense Cal has faced so far, and likely will face all season. The other side of that coin is that this will easily be the best offense that Ohio State will face before they enter the Big Ten season. Ohio State looks like an easy loss on paper. What Cal can do to help their chances on the offensive side of the ball is to hold the ball for as long as possible, giving their defense a chance to take a breather. They cannot afford to play in a shoot out style game with Ohio State like they did against Portland State. Ohio State’s defense is not as forgiving as the one Cal saw this past weekend.
Goff also has to play cool and calm. The Buckeyes will rush the passer early and often, and the onus is on Goff to stand tall and make smart plays against the Buckeyes. The running game, which I didn’t think was terrible against Portland State, will have to have a breakout game. Muhammad and Bigelow need to use their agility to get away from the likes of Spence and Grant. The offense must play balanced, keeping Ohio State on their toes, and eat long stretches of clock. While Goff’s arm is the most exiting thing ever, I would keep his deep passes to a minimum.
Topics: Armani Reeves, Big Ten, Bradley Roby, Brendan Bigelow, Cal Golden Bears, Cal/Ohio State Preview, Curtis Grant, Doran Grant, Jared Goff, Joe Licata, Khaifani Muhammad, Noah Spence, Ohio State Buckeyes, Quinn Kaehler, Ron Tanner, Ryan Shazier, Urban Meyer