Meyer Building SEC-Caliber Defense at Ohio State?
By Brandon Castel
It starts up front.
Winning championships, that is.
That’s one thing Urban Meyer learned during his six seasons in the Southeastern Conference.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It makes sense, then, why Meyer was thrilled get a phone call from 4-star defensive tackle Michael Hill when the top player in the state of South Carolina recently gave his verbal commitment to Ohio State.
There are plenty of arguments from all sides on why the SEC has dominated college football to the tune of five straight BCS national championships. The conference features a number of traditional powerhouse football programs, including the Florida team coached by Meyer from 2005-10.
Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Les Miles headline an all-star cast of coaches, but there seems to be a consensus amongst those who have played and coached in the conference on what has set it apart from the others.
“The thing that separated the SEC from everybody else in America was the defensive front, the speed, athleticism on the edges, athleticism inside,” former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said during last year’s SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala.
“I found that out when I came back as a head coach in the league.”
Petrino—who was recently fired at Arkansas for inappropriate behavior—was the offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2002. He left the conference in 2003 to become the head coach at Louisville and did not return until 2008, when he was hired by the Razorbacks.
By then, the SEC had already won back-to-back national titles, with Meyer’s 2006 Florida team getting things rolling with a 41-14 victory over Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz.
Buckeye fans have erased that game from their memories, but who else could forget the way Florida’s defense line—particularly ends Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey—abused Ohio State in the trenches.
“Top to bottom in our league — you watch every week when you turn on an SEC film — there's going to be some dominating players up front, not just in one or two teams, but from top to bottom in our league,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who replaced Meyer in Gainesville after two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Auburn, and three as the coach-in-waiting at Texas.
“That's the biggest difference in our league and other leagues.”
It was certainly the biggest difference in that game, as the Gators held Smith—the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner—to just 35 yards and a pair of turnovers. They sacked him five times as the game quickly turned into a lopsided stampede.
Meyer would win another title two years later with one of the most dominant football teams in, well, ever. Quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and the Gators offense got much of the praise, but it was Meyer’s defense which led the way.
With cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins on the outside, then-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong cut his ends—Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham—loose to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Now Meyer is hoping to recreate that same success at Ohio State, and it looks like he plans to start by bringing an SEC-caliber defense to the Big Ten. That’s not a knock on the B1G; and certainly not on the defense that’s been played in Columbus over the last decade.
But Meyer, and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, are clearly placing an emphasis on the defensive front, which was highlighted in bold last Wednesday with the commitment from Hill.
Considered to be the top player in South Carolina, and one of the top defensive linemen in the country, Hill is the latest piece to a puzzle that could spell future success for Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Especially with college football moving to a four-team playoff in 2014.
When the Buckeyes won their national championship in 2002, it was on the strength of a defensive line anchored by future NFL Pro Bowler Will Smith, along with guys like Darrion Scott, Kenny Peterson and Tim Anderson.
The 2012 Buckeyes will feature two of the top defensive linemen in the conference—and maybe the country—in John Simon and Johnathan Hankins. A healthy Nathan Williams would give them, arguably, the best group in college football.
All three of those guys were Jim Tressel recruits, but Meyer is loading up with talent behind them that could set him up for a run of success in Columbus, even in the changing landscape of college football.
While Brady Hoke is filling out his 2012 class with big-name offensive linemen, Meyer has now landed eight guys on the defensive front in the last two classes. That includes Hill, one of four guys committed to the Buckeyes this year.
Another is Billy Price, a 4-star defensive tackle out of Youngstown, but the pride of the group may very well be Joey Bosa—a blue chip defensive end prospect form Fort Lauderdale.
Bosa—nephew of former Buckeye Eric Kumerow—joins last year’s haul of Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Se’Von Pittman to give the Buckeyes as much depth at defensive end as they have had in years.
No one knows for sure which kids will pan out and which won’t, but the numbers are stacked heavily in Ohio State’s favor. The 2013 Buckeyes—Meyer’s first bowl-eligible team at OSU—will feature 16 scholarship defensive linemen.
Some of those guys could end up switching to offensive line, and a couple might transfer, but if even half of them pan out according to their lofty ranking, the Buckeyes will be a staunch group on the defensive front for the next 4-5 years.
What the Buckeyes could have up front defensively in 2013:
LEO (RUSH END)
Noah Spence (6-4, 245, So.)
Steve Miller (6-3, 255, Jr.)
Se’Von Pittman (6-3, 259, So.)
Michael Bennett (6-3, 277, Jr.)
Adam Bellamy (6-4, 292, Sr.)
Chase Farris (6-4, 286, rSo.)
Kenny Hayes (6-5, 285, rSo.)
Billy Price (6-4, 280, Fr.)
Johnathan Hankins (6-4, 317, Sr.)
Joel Hale (6-4, 295, Jr.)
Tommy Schutt (6-3, 301, So.)
Michael Hill (6-3, 315, Fr.)
Adolphus Washington (6-4, 230, So.)
Joey Bosa (6-5, 270, Fr.)
J.T. Moore (6-3, 250, Jr.)
Tracy Sprinkle (6-4, 245, Fr.)
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