Road closed

Ohio State's run defense appears vastly improved from 2018 as Big Ten opener approaches

It's a scene that played out repeatedly a year ago, a visual Ohio State fans have seared into their collective conscience, hard though they try to delete it.

Game-after-game, play-after-play (it seemed), an opposing player got loose and embarked unimpeded toward the OSU end zone with a barrage of Buckeyes in hot and futile pursuit.

So far, photos of the Buckeyes playing catch-up have been in short supply as they prepare for their Big Ten opener at Indiana on Saturday (noon, Fox-TV).

Sure, Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati weren't even Power 5 tests, but both have won their respective leagues recently and neither is an an FBS bottom-feeder.

But the evidence of improvement goes beyond OSU's 64.5 yards per-game rushing average, the shutout it pitched against UC or the nine quarterback sacks registered so far.

It's the eye test the Buckeyes have passed, playing faster and more in line with the four- and five-star recruiting rankings the defensive players brought to campus.

Indiana hasn't allowed a quarterback sack yet and is coming off a 52-0 win over Eastern Illinois that established a new standard for margin of victory in Memorial Stadium.

Last year, such an achievement might have sparked concern amid the OSU faithful due to a defense that allowed 25.7 points per game and 400.3 yards per game in the regular season -- both school records.

Head coach Ryan Day saw those struggles while serving as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator, but wasn't as disturbed by it as some others.

 

Day did what he could to fix the problem by hiring a host of new defensive coaches, luring Jeff Hafley from the San Francisco 49ers and two Michigan assistants, Greg Mattison and Al Washington Jr.

Washington's father played for OSU in the 1980s, so that made some sense.

But getting Mattison to leave Michigan, well, it still looks weird seeing him standing at the podium in OSU gear after working in Ann Arbor two different times for five- and eight-year chunks.

Mattison didn't come to Columbus with any preconceived notions of what he would find or what went wrong in 2018.

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