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Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley spearheaded one of the best Ohio State secondaries ever

And other takeaways from a great Ohio State defense

Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Name a pair of Ohio State cornerbacks better than Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley

I can’t. Both defensive backs repeatedly made big plays that showed just how dangerous throwing downfield on the Buckeyes could be. A pass thrown off the screen was more likely to end up in the hands of a Buckeye instead of the receiver. Here’s one example:

And here’s another:

It really can’t be understated how impressive both cornerbacks were this entire season against some elite passing attacks. Their best performance likely came in Norman against an explosive Sooners offense:

  1. Oklahoma finished the season ranked 12th in the country with an average of 318 passing yard per game.
  2. Baker Mayfield threw for 226 yards (second fewest of the season) and two interceptions (tied a season high).
  3. Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook put up a 5-51-0 line, his second-fewest receiving yards in a game and only the third time all season he didn’t score a touchdown.
  4. The Buckeyes beat the Sooners 45-24 and the defense only gave up 17 points. Did you know that Oklahoma finished the year ranked ahead of Ohio Sate in the AP poll? Hmm.

Anyway, Conley and Lattimore finished the season with four interceptions each and a combined 17 pass breakups. They helped lead an Ohio State secondary that finished as the fifth-ranked defense in S&P+ and ranked seventh in passing yards per game. The entire defense was opportunistic enough to lead the country with seven interceptions returned for touchdowns. Of course, that was mostly thanks to...

Malik Hooker, who should be added to the short list of great Ohio State safeties

Just look at the stats:

  • Seven interceptions — most in the Big Ten, tied for the third-most in the country
  • 74 total tackles — eight more than Jabrill Peppers third-most on the team
  • Three interceptions returned for touchdowns — tied for the most in the country

And then look at the film:

Ridiculous athleticism and ball skills are great, but can you play great when the lights are shinning brightest?

Yes, Hooker could. Hell, he even supplied one of the lone bright spots of that recent bowl game that Ohio State played in. Hooker stepped up again and again and did whatever the coaches asked. Against Wisconsin, he began rolling down into the box as a counter against the speed sweep that had been killing the Buckeyes. Hooker quickly ended that play.

Hooker didn’t have the longevity of Mike Doss, or the “on-field arrogance” of Vonn Bell. But he was often the best player on the field on one of the best defenses in the country. Don’t be surprised to hear Hooker’s name called quickly during the upcoming NFL Draft.

Raekwon “The Chosen One” McMillan lived up to the hype

As LGHL’s own Christopher Jason said: McMillan entered Ohio State with sky-high expectations as the No. 1 overall inside linebacker in his class and he consistently lived up to the hype from day one.

McMillan played extensively as a true freshman behind senior Curtis Grant and he proceeded to lead the team in tackles during each of his two seasons as a full-time starter. McMillan didn’t always make the splash plays that showed up in ESPN highlights, but he had more than his fair share of big plays and was the key source of stability in the middle of the defense.

The captain and former All-American should be remembered for exactly what he was: a three-down beast of a linebacker who consistently thwarted opposing rushing attacks while racking up three wins over Michigan and one national championship. Oh, and he has possibly the greatest name in college football history.

This defensive line was great and they’re all coming back

Talk about LOADED:

  • Dre’Mont Jones — 52 total tackles ranked sixth on the team, four TFLs
  • Sam Hubbard — eight TFLs and 3.5 sacks
  • Jalyn Holmes — 8.5 TFLs and two sacks (one of which was pretty important)
  • Nick Bosa — seven TFLs and five sacks
  • Robert Landers — 7.5 TFLs
  • TyGod Lewis — 10.5 TFLs, eight sacks and one Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year award.

The rushmen package was a thing of beauty all season and there’s no reason to believe next year’s version won’t be even better. In addition to the strong defensive line...

Ohio States newest stud linebackers are named Jerome Backer and Chris Worley

Baker and Worley finished the season with a combined 153 tackles, 14 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. Worley did about as well as anyone could have hoped for filling in for Darron Lee, while Baker single-handily dissuading any quarterback scrambles on a game-by-game basis. He made a few flash plays too.

Dante Booker is expected to fill in as the team’s middle linebacker next season and he should complete one of the better Buckeyes linebacker units in recent memory. Only McMillan will be leaving what was already one of the better front sevens in the country. Look for the Buckeyes’ defense to once again be very tough to run against.

It might be Denzel Ward’s turn to step in as the DB1 at DBU

All we really knew about Denzel Ward before the season started was that he was the Buckeyes’ fastest player. He may have given up a few more big plays than Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley this season, but plenty of eventually great Ohio State corners have struggled as an underclassmen (Doran Grant vs. Clemson, Conley vs. Michigan State) before stepping up as prominent corners.

It’s not a stretch to think that Ward is further along than both of those corners at this point in his career. He should continue to add weight to his lean frame, but his nine pass deflections were tied for the most on the team and he showed a willingness to hit that you usually don’t see out of cornerbacks:

Ward isn’t as big as some of his predecessors, but he’s every bit as fast and can lay the lumber as well as just about any cornerback you can find. He’ll have plenty of competition from Kendall Sheffield and Damon Webb, but don’t sleep on Ward making a jump during the off-season and becoming the Buckeyes’ latest lock-down corner.