Defense will separate the Buckeyes from the rest of the Big Ten
this season--that is, assuming coordinator Mark Dantonio has
addressed his unit's glaring weakness. Ohio State had the best
pass defense in the conference (holding opponents to an
efficiency rating of 107.6) yet still finished next to last in
third-down conversions allowed (87 of 189, 46%). With three
losses coming by a total of eight points, a few more stops could
have made a big difference.
To stiffen the defense, Dantonio will deploy the Buckeyes in less
press man coverage. Above all, though, he has stressed to his
players that they're a year older and a year smarter, and they
have to make plays. During the spring he brought his top seniors
in for regular 7 a.m. film study. "The idea was that we'd be able
to tell freshmen during practice what went right and what went
wrong," says strong safety Mike Doss. "We spent the whole
off-season looking for things we can do differently."
Doss won't have to change much. He led the team in tackles (87),
tackles for loss (10) and fumble recoveries (four) and even
blocked two kicks. "He wants to make every play," Dantonio says.
"If he has a weakness, that's it. He has to be disciplined." The
defensive front is solid from tip to tip. Then there's Cie Grant,
a 6'1", 220-pound senior who started 10 games at corner last year
but will return to weakside linebacker. "When he's in, we have
4 1/2 defensive backs in the game," Dantonio says. "When we're in
nickel, we have 5 1/2."
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has four
tailbacks--Maurice Clarett, Maurice Hall, JaJa Riley and Lydell
Ross--good enough to make significant contributions. That eases
the concerns at quarterback, where junior Craig Krenzel is
expected to win the job from classmate Scott McMullen.
But as the D goes, so go the Buckeyes. Early games against
pass-happy Texas Tech and Washington State will reveal how well
those 7 a.m. study sessions went. --I.M.
COLOR PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP SHIFT OF POWER Grant (6) showed last year that he could knock down balls as a corner; now he'll knock heads at linebacker.
2001 RECORD: 7-5 (5-3, 3rd in Big Ten)
FINAL RANKING: not ranked
Age of tailback Lydell Ross when he ran for 124 yards against
Indiana--the youngest Big Ten player ever with a 100-yard game.
An opposing coach's view
Doss is boss: The senior safety makes this D click
"Their defense thrives on applying pressure, and their blitz can
change the complexion of a game. But that system leaves the
secondary exposed, which could be a problem without a guy
like [NFL draft pick] Derek Ross back there at corner.... Even
with the uncertainty at one cornerback, the secondary is the
team's strength, since they have the best defensive back in the
country in Mike Doss. The kid is phenomenal. He hits like a Mack
truck. His energy on the field seems to get the team's engine
Aug. 24 TEXAS TECH
Sept. 7 KENT STATE
14 WASHINGTON ST.
21 at Cincinnati
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
12 SAN JOSE STATE
19 at Wisconsin
26 PENN STATE
Nov. 2 MINNESOTA
9 at Purdue
16 at Illinois