Football: Position-by-position look at Ohio’s defense

After a disappointing 2014 season in which Ohio finished 6-6 and missed its first bowl game in five years, the Bobcats look to rebound to their previous form from 2009-2013, a span that included five bowl appearances and a 64.1 winning percentage.

In order to do so, they’ll have to rely on the defensive side of the ball, which returns seven starters from last year’s second-ranked defense in the Mid-American Conference. In this preview, we go in-depth with the Bobcats defense from the defensive line to the secondary.

Defensive Line

Starters Returning/Lost: 2/2

  • Tarell Basham: 33 tackles, five sacks
  • Casey Sayles: 19 tackles, 0.5 sacks
  • Watson Tautuiaki: 22 tackles, one tackle for loss
  • Kurt Laseak: 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks

The Bobcats were one of the best teams in the MAC last year in run defense, and a major part of that was due to the guys up front. Although they lost two of starters from the previous year, expect the run defense to be equally as good this year. Junior defensive end Tarell Basham looks to continue off of his stellar first two years in which he totaled 12.5 sacks, already seventh all-time in the school’s history, and earned himself a Third Team All-MAC selection last year.

Junior Casey Sayles joins Basham on the left side of the line and is looking to bounce back from a down sophomore year in which both his sack total and tackles for loss dropped significantly from his freshmen year. If both Sayles and Basham can get their sacks totals up, it will only make this defense better from the year before, as the Bobcats were a mere sixth in the MAC in total sacks.

The right side of this rugged defensive line comes in new, but not necessarily completely new, as both redshirt senior Watson Tautuiaki and redshirt junior Kurt Laseak saw considerable action in all 12 games last year. Expect these two to take some of the pressure off of both Basham and Sayles, allowing them to get to the quarterback more frequently than last year. If they can do that, the Bobcats’ front four could be one of the best in the MAC.

Linebackers

Starters Returning/Lost: 3/0

  • Jovon Johnson: 67 tackles (46 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, two INT’s,
  • Blair Brown: 55 tackles (30 solo), four tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble
  • Quentin Poling: 89 tackles (60 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three INT’s

If you were to make an order of importance in which you should build a solid defense around, the number one answer would be revolve around what you have at the linebacker position. And when looking at the Bobcats’ linebacker core this year, they seem to have what it takes to lead the Bobcats’ defense to the top of the MAC this year.

Not only do they return all three starters from the year before, but all three of them are coming off of stellar years in their own rights. Redshirt senior Jovon Johnson was selected to the Third Team All-MAC Defense, sophomore Quentin Poling ranked third among freshmen in tackles and tied for first in sacks, and redshirt junior Blair Brown was third on the Bobcats in tackles.

Add in the experience of these three, plus an already dominant front four defensive line, and the Bobcats’ front seven should be a force to be reckoned with in the MAC.

Secondary

Starters Returning/Lost: 2/2

  • Ian Wells: 42 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, 12 pass breakups
  • Devin Jones: 32 tackles, four pass breakups
  • Toran Davis: 42 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two pass breakups
  • Devin Bass: 42 tackles, one interception, 10 pass breakups, one forced fumble

For as bad as the numbers may look, the secondary for Ohio was not as bad as one may think. Yes, they were ranked 10th in the MAC and 104th in the nation in pass yards allowed, but those numbers are a tad bit bloated. Last year, Ohio gave up the fourth-most pass attempts in the MAC, and when looking at efficiency rankings, the secondary looks a little better.

The Bobcats return both of their starting cornerbacks back from the previous year in Ian Wells and Devin Bass, but have two new starters at safety this year. Despite the lack of starting experience, both Toran Davis and Devin Jones saw plenty of time on the field last year.

If the Bobcats want to be the top-ranked defense in the MAC, it will rely on the play of the secondary. The last three games of last year could be a sign towards the right direction of improvement, where they allowed 170 passing yards per game on a combined 37.9 completion percentage and picking off four passes in that span. If they can transfer that display onto this year, it will only make the Bobcats defense that much better for 2015.

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