Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano also pointed to some high points his unit hit in important games against TCU, Penn State and Michigan during a 12-1 season that included a Big Ten championship but not a berth in the College Football Playoff.
“Three big games, defense did a lot of big things in those games, whether it’s scoring on defense in TCU twice (and) blocking a punt,” Schiano said. “Penn State, keeping our team in the game so we can win the game in the end. And then obviously the (Michigan) game with takeaways and a blocked punt and those kinds of things.”
Nonetheless, Ohio State struggled on defense for the balance of 2018.
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That is why the Buckeyes will enter the Rose Bowl allowing 25.7 points per game and 400.3 yards per game, both higher than the school record entering the season. The Buckeyes allowed 24.7 points per game in 1989 and 385.7 yards per game in 1988.
“I looked at it and evaluated it: It’s not what we set out to do, but I think there’s — this bowl preparation we’ve had growth, and this group we’ll have plenty of room for growth because the predominance of them will be back and (have) a chance to be a good defense,” Schiano said.
While a handful of Buckeyes could still enter the NFL draft early, defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones are the only ones who have decided to do so.
If the rest of the underclassmen come back — (not a small “if,” given recent history — Ohio State could return 10 starters.(Bosa missed most of the season with a core muscle injury).
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Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan is among those to say there is nothing lacking as far as talent when it comes to the Ohio State defense, but the 2018 unit was one that dealt with no shortage of injuries or youth. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Buckeyes look better after a month off to work on some of their issues.
“I think (time off) for everybody gives you a second to take a deep breath, analyze what you’ve been doing,” Hamdan said. “Sometimes those weeks (in the season) go so fast that you need to do some self-scout, if you will, on your own offense or defense. And I think everybody will be better for that.”
Fundamentals were also lacking at times, particularly in the back seven.
That is something linebacker Tuf Borland, a captain despite being just a sophomore, said they have worked on during bowl practices.
“The first few weeks or so were all about fundamentals before we got into game planning,” Borland said.
What did that entail?
“Tackling, block destruction,” he said in a tone that indicated it was not the most fun he has ever had on a practice field.
Buckeyes to match up with Huskies in the Rose Bowl
Of course, the toil will be worth it if the Buckeyes can stymie the Huskies — and springboard into a more Ohio State-like defensive season in 2019.
“You’re not allowed to take skip-its,” Schiano said. “You’re not allowed to take years where you don’t play great defense at Ohio State. That’s not the way it works.
“Overall, I was disappointed, but there was a lot of positive things in those big games that gave us a chance to win those games. So opportunistic,” he said, describing his team’s style of play, “not our expectation level.”