COLUMBUS – Measuring how well Ohio State’s defensive line is playing could require more than one hand.
When Urban Meyer began to count earlier this week how many players on OSU’s defensive front played well in a 38-17 win over Indiana last Saturday, he didn’t stop until he got to six.
Michael Hill, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, Dre’Mont Jones and Nick Bosa all were singled out for playing well by Meyer, who then added Tyquan Lewis to the list as Defensive Player of the Week at Ohio State.
When the season began, Lewis was the only returning starter on the defensive line, though Hubbard — the defensive end on the other side from Lewis — played close to starter’s minutes off the bench.
Despite that inexperience, Ohio State ranks second nationally in points allowed (10.8) and is the only FBS team that has not given up a rushing touchdown.
The Buckeyes are third nationally in overall defense (246.4 yards), fifth in passing defense (148.6 yards) and seventh in rushing defense (97.8 yards a game).
When Meyer took over at OSU in 2012 he said defensive line was one of the most important positions to recruit.
In 2006, when Florida won the first of Meyer’s three national championships, the Gators’ defensive line was one of the big factors in a 41-14 win over Ohio State in the BCS championship game. Its defensive ends, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss, combined to sack OSU quarterback Troy Smith five times and helped hold the Buckeyes to 82 yards total offense.
Florida rotated linemen in and out of that game and Meyer thinks OSU could have the depth to do that this season.
“You’d like to have a rotation and we’re very close to that,” he said.
Lewis, who leads Ohio State with three sacks, described the defensive line as “hungry” and said, “We’re always looking to get better. The defensive line and the whole defense are on the rise.
“With the defensive line, it’s about replenishing it. We all buy into what Coach Johnson (defensive line coach Larry Johnson) is saying. As far as someone saying how far we’ve come, it’s always been there. It’s just guys stepping up and taking bigger roles,” he said.
Hill and Jones start at the defensive tackle positions along with Lewis and Hubbard at the ends. Holmes, primarily a defensive end, also can play inside. Highly regarded freshman Nick Bosa also can do that. Defensive tackle Robert Landers leads the team in tackles for losses with seven.
Bosa has gotten off to a faster start in college than his older brother Joey, a first-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers this year.
Nick Bosa has 13 tackles, four tackles for losses and two sacks in his first five college games. Joey Bosa had 11 tackles and two tackles for losses in his first five games. Also, eight of Nick Bosa’s first 13 tackles have been at or behind the line of scrimmage. “He’s rare,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He’s very strong, and he plays with great technique, which young guys usually don’t. Even if they’re young, strong guys they’re usually kind of flopping around with their hands and feet and not coordinated. He’s well trained.”
Bosa had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament last November. “I think Larry Johnson is doing a great job. He’s bringing him along at the pace you want to, especially a guy, you have to remember, who is coming off an ACL surgery. I think he’s doing a really good job, and he’ll continue to play more and more because he deserves to,” Schiano said.
Ohio State (5-0 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten) plays at Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1) Saturday at 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ABC-TV.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.