Before the Bowl: Ohio’s Defense

Posted on:

< < Back to

While Ohio’s offense came and went, its defense was a model of consistent strength. There is no question that the Bobcat defense anchored the team and often put Ohio in position to win games.

As a unit, the Bobcats were second in the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense and third in total defense, limiting opponents to only 22.2 points and 363.2 yards per game.

The Bobcats led the conference in sacks with 43, 12 more than the team that finished in second. Ohio was also tied for second in the conference in turnovers forced with 24.

There were questions about the Ohio defense coming into the year and the first game against Texas State didn’t help. With an almost entirely new starting secondary, the Bobcats gave up 56 points and 546 total yards, clearly a far cry from their season averages. However, the Bobcats also forced three turnovers. So while the points and yardage allowed may not have been an indicator of what was ahead, the turnovers were.

Kylan Nelson, a redshirt sophomore safety, had two interceptions against Texas State and finished the year with three. The Bobcat defense also got to TSU’s quarterback six times in the triple-overtime loss.

One week later against Kansas, the Bobcats recovered two fumbles and got another interception while holding the Jayhawks to 21 points.

The Ohio defense had one of its most impressive performances in the first conference game of the year against Miami. The Bobcats held their rivals to only seven points and 238 total yards, only 33 of which came on the ground.

For the season, Ohio only gave up 105.8 rushing yards per game, the sixth-best in the country.

The front seven was undoubtedly the anchor of Ohio’s defensive unit. Lineman Tarell Basham and linebacker Quentin Poling were expected to have big seasons and did, but a couple other defenders stepped up and surprised. Blair Brown, a redshirt senior linebacker, finished with more total tackles than Poling, 116 to 101. Out of the 10 players with at least 100 tackles in the MAC, no one had more sacks than Brown’s 4.5. Poling had four.

As good as Brown was, Basham was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Ever since he recorded 7.5 sacks as a freshman, Basham has been held to an incredibly high standard. He did not disappoint in 2016. Basham set the single season and career records at Ohio for sacks with 11.5 this year and 29.5 since joining the team in 2013.

Basham certainly had plenty of help though. Fellow lineman Casey Sayles had five sacks of his own. Only four teams in all of college football finished with more sacks than Ohio’s 43.

Including the Miami game, Ohio allowed 10 or fewer points four times. Ohio didn’t have a shutout this season but in their final game of the regular season, the Bobcats only gave up a field goal to Akron in their MAC East-clinching win. The Zips only had 226 total yards.

The rankings do not flatter the Bobcat secondary but that group came into its own as the year went on. Redshirt freshman safety Javon Hagan impressed in his first year, so much so that he was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year. Hagan finished the season with three interceptions and forced five fumbles.

In the MAC Championship, Ohio faced its toughest test against one of the best offenses in the country. The Western Michigan Broncos, led by the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year Corey Davis and winner of the conference’s best quarterback award, Zach Terrell. Plus, the Broncos led the conference in rushing with 247.2 yards per game.

Ohio may have lost to the Broncos but the defense held up admirably. The Bobcats held WMU to 114 yards on the ground and intercepted Terrell twice. Coming into the game, Terrell had only thrown two interceptions all season.

Ohio will have to continue its defensive excellence against an explosive Troy offense. Troy scores 34.2 points a game thanks to 438.6 yards of total offense per game. The Trojans led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring, passing and total offense. Junior quarterback Brandon Silvers has thrown for 2945 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and junior running back Jordan Chunn scored 13 times on the ground with 1232 rushing yards.

The Bobcats and Trojans kick off from Mobile, Ala. in the Dollar General Bowl at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 23. The game will be televised on ESPN. For a look at Ohio’s offense, click here.