Ohio State's offense, nigh-unstoppable a year ago, has come back to earth in 2015. Despite that drop-off, the Buckeyes have a better record through three weeks than they did at this time last year, and have retained the No. 1 ranking in the polls in the face of a stagnant passing game and lackluster playcalling. The reason? Ohio State's defense, front to back, looks like the best in the country, and after three games, the best player on that defense is New Albany's own Darron Lee. He'll look to continue his impact playmaking this weekend against Western Michigan.
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
Weight: 235 lbs.
Current Stat Line: 12 total tackles, 6 solo, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 touchdown
Lee was the ultimate difference-maker in the Buckeyes' ugly win over Northern Illinois last weekend. His 55-yard pick-six was one of just two touchdowns that Urban Meyer's squad mustered against a feisty Huskies team that looks like an early contender to take home the MAC trophy (sup, Toledo). Though Lee didn't stuff the stat sheet, he seemed to be everywhere at once, and his nose for the ball could be unparalleled on Ohio State's defense.
The game situation
P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan Broncos come into Columbus on Saturday having played, through three games, the country's second-toughest non-conference schedule. Once this one is over, WMU will have played the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, something that hardly helps the record of any school, much less one in the MAC. Still, the Broncos hung with Michigan State for a good long while, putting up 24 points on a stingy Mark Dantonio defense and losing by just two scores. While the Flecktones are just 1-2 on the season (suffering an ignominious loss to Georgia Southern to go with the respectable defeat at MSU's hands), they are certainly a seasoned bunch.
WMU quarterback Zach Terrell is completing more than 70% of his passes this year, and Darron Lee will be one of the biggest reasons why that number might head south after Saturday. He has proven himself to be a force as both a pass rusher and a pass defender, and that versatility should be a problem for the Broncos. He blitzes at a speed that is often too much to handle for those tasked with picking him up. He drops into coverage with a very natural feel for where to position himself in order to make a play on the ball. This is a hard man to game plan for.
What to watch for
Great as Lee has been, the Buckeyes have been waiting for the resurgence of their most explosive playmaker from a year ago, defensive end Joey Bosa. Western Michigan's offensive line is hardly full of slouches -- you don't often see a QB completing 70 percent of his passes when he's running for his life -- but they've yet to face a talent like Bosa, and they certainly have never seen a tandem like Bosa and Lee. Look for this to be the game where the possible No. 1 overall pick gets his mojo back in full swing, which will also pay dividends for Ohio State's strong side linebacker.
Lee is going to disrupt P.J. Fleck's game plan in a number of ways, as a pass rusher, someone who can tackle backs and receivers in the flat with perfect form, and as a pass defender. He'll line up on Saturday looking to do everything from strip-sacking Terrell too adding another pick-six to his trophy case. Don't be surprised to see Lee making another show-stopping defensive play or two against an overmatched out-of-conference opponent this week.
After a disastrous showing last week, the Ohio State offense is bound to find its stride again during its last non-conference matchup of the (regular) season. If the Buckeyes get firing on all cylinders, the defensive side of things won't matter nearly so much. Either way, it's hard to imagine Urban Meyer's team coming out as any less than its best for a third consecutive week. Ohio State might win by 20, they might win by 40, but regardless, the Silver Bullets in the Buckeyes' linebacking corps are going to eat. And none of them eat more voraciously than Darron Lee.