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Can Ohio State reload its defensive line like Alabama has?

Despite their pass rushing excellence, the Ohio State defensive line wasn't up to Alabama's standard in run-defense last season.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Alabama war machine is just becoming fully operational in the trenches, earlier we took a look at how Ohio State is progressing in the same area -- the offensive line. Now it's time to look at the defensive lines.

Former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's championship-level defenses have hinged on stellar line play, with mammoth nose tackles and dominating defensive ends fueling the Crimson Tide's defensive legacy.

The Buckeyes recent defensive lines have included NFL Draftees Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, John Simon, Adolphus Washington, and Noah Spence.

Now that Ohio State has to replace three starters, the focus turns to depth and finding new stars in the making -- though Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard at least have a leg up here, and Jonathon Cooper and Nick Bosa are on the way.

Team Year Adj. Line Yds Opp. Rate Adj. Sack Rate
OSU 2014 47 73 11
Bama 2014 1 8 92
OSU 2015 37 7 4
Bama 2015 2 2 1

Alabama's 2015 defensive line was just about as good as you can get, ranking in the top two in adjusted line yards, opportunity rate, and adjusted sack rate. As opposed to the 2014 unit that excelled at stopping the run but was 92nd in generating sacks, the Tide were able to get consistent pressure.

That kind of consistency between the run and pass defense is something Ohio State hasn't been able to get, and the problem is the opposite of 2014 Alabama. Urban Meyer's defenses have more-or-less steadily improved throughout his tenure, but the defensive line has struggled at stopping the run. Interestingly, while the line jumped ten spots from mediocre to pretty-good in 2015, the line had a huge jump in opportunity rate over the same time period. This indicates that the Buckeye defensive line rarely allowed opponents to run for five yards or more (opportunity rate), but was only pretty-good in holding opponents' to a low adjusted overall rushing average. The opponent-adjustment likely increases the poor games against Penn State and Maryland in October. And while Michigan State's run game wasn't much to speak of, they nonetheless rushed 51 times at nearly four yards per carry.

But with Bosa and the defensive tackles gone, will both the run defense and pass rush fall behind in 2016? I also took a look at recent recruiting for Ohio State and Alabama. Over the last four years, Alabama has recruited eighteen defensive linemen, with an average 247Sports Composite rating of .9374 (a solid four-star recruit). Ohio State has recruited sixteen defensive linemen with a .9078 247Sports Composite rating.

2013 2014 2015 2016
Bama .9612 .9169 .952 .9342
OSU .912 .8934 .8862 .9585

That's a definite gap in overall quality, though it has mostly to do with depth. That is, Alabama and Ohio State's starting defensive lines should be roughly equal, quality-wise -- but Ohio State has recruited more development players than Alabama. The Tide signed five linemen with 247Sports Composite rating below .9 -- Ohio State signed ten in the last four years. But at the top end, prospects like both Bosas, Washington, A'Shawn Robinson, Da'Shawn Hand, and Jonathon Cooper are all roughly equal prospects.

The question will be how deep the defensive line rotations for both schools will be, and whether the Buckeyes run out of gas at the end of games.