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Cover Six: Ohio State will have a top-five defense, more 2023 predictions

The Buckeyes play football this week! Jordan gives six predictions for the Ohio State defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In football terms, Cover Six is a zone coverage that combines Cover Four and Cover Two. While on the field it is designed to negate the deep pass and offer extra support underneath to protect against the run, in this case, Cover Six is a weekly column focused on Ohio State’s defense under coordinator Jim Knowles.

Every week, it will cover six aspects of the defense’s performance, including big moments, key stats, film analysis, and areas in need of improvement. Join me as I follow the defense as it tries to bring back the Silver Bullets swagger that we know and love!

Cover 1: Ohio State will finish with a top-five defense in Stop Rate

When discussing the Buckeyes, most people focus on the quarterbacks or the offensive line, but the ceiling of this team will depend on their defense. Last year, in Jim Knowles’s first season, Ohio State had one of the better defenses in the country. All that changed once they played Michigan and Georgia.

After borderline dominant first halves, the defense gave up big play after big play, resulting in eventual losses. Despite those last two games, OSU finished tied for 10th in stop rate, a defensive statistic that gives the percentage you stop the offense from scoring points whether via turnover or forcing punts. Last season, Ohio State forced stops on 74.3% of drives and allowed 1.5 points per drive They also finished 14th in total defense, allowing 321 yards per game. That was a marked adjustment over 2021, where they allowed 374 yards per game which finished 59th in the country.

In year two of Knowles’ system, Ohio State should be much better. They return starters at all three levels, many of which have at least two years of starting experience. They have one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in the country, arguably the best linebacker in the country in Tommy Eichenberg, and a secondary that should be better if it remains healthy.

This is a recipe for a top-five defense, which the Buckeyes will need to rely on until Kyle McCord gets his feet under him.

Cover 2: Ohio State will lead the Big Ten in sacks

Last season, Ohio State finished fourth in the Big Ten with 32 total sacks as a team. I think they blew passed that number and have a legitimate chance at 50 sacks this season.

While they may not have a superstar pass rusher, Ohio State is insanely deep on the defensive line and Jim Knowles likes to be aggressive. With expected third-year jumps from JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall, and Tyliek Williams, Ohio State would be formidable. But those aren’t their only options.

Coaches have raved about Kenyatta Jackon, Sonny Styles, and C.J. Hicks could be matchup nightmares on the blitz, and the linebacker trio of Eichenberg, Simon, and Chambers all had at least two sacks last season. I think that gets ratcheted up this year, especially if the secondary is better, causing quarterbacks to have to double clutch and take extra hitches before throwing the ball.

Ohio State’s defense should be a terror this season and will rack up the sacks.

Cover 3: Four players will have at least six sacks

For Ohio State to make good on my last prediction, the Buckeyes will need to either have a dominant pass rusher — see Chase Young — or will need it to be a team effort. Despite the high recruiting rankings of JT and Jack, I don’t think they turn into Young or a Bosa Brother, so to lead the Big Ten in sacks it will need multiple players to contribute.

Last season no one reached six sacks, but I think that changes this year. I predict that at least four players will have six sacks, and it could be more. JT, Jack, Kenyatta Jackson, Mike Hall, CJ Hicks, Sonny Styles, and Caden Curry are all capable of getting six sacks. I don’t think all eight will end up hitting that number, but I think it’s reasonable to think half of that group could reach this goal.

The defensive line is super talented and Hicks should be on the field in passing situations, similar to Penn State’s Abdul Carter and LSU’s Harold Perkins. Sonny Styles is never leaving the field, and Caden Curry is just a unit with a high motor.

The Silver Bullets are going to be a sacking machine and everyone will eat this season.

Cover 4: Tommy Eichenberg will win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

There are a lot of really talented defensive players in the Big Ten, but I think Tommy will have an exceptional season and win the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, making it back-to-back linebackers after Iowa’s Jack Campbell won it last season.

I still contend Tommy should have won it last season, and the voters will make up for their mistake this year. It is fully within reason to expect Tommy to duplicate last season, and if he’s better — which is possible due to being more confident in Jim Knowles’s system — and playing behind a better defensive line, he will take home this award.

Cover 5: J.T. Tuimoloau will win Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year

J.T.’s career has been a little quiet so far, but he exploded against Penn State and showed the world his game-changing capabilities. While it’s impossible to expect that performance weekly, I think J.T. will put together a more complete season and take home this award.

Last season, Michigan’s Mike Morris won it without reaching 10 sacks. I’m not sure J.T. reaches that number either, but I think he has the best chance of anyone in the conference to do it. He always will have an impact in the running game and should force a few turnovers. With his freaky athletic traits allowing him to get into the endzone, I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores another defensive touchdown this season.

There will be major competition from Penn State’s Chop Robinson, but I think Tuimoloau is a more all-around player and will ultimately be crowned the best defensive lineman in the conference.

Cover 6: The Silver Bullets will score five defensive touchdowns

My last prediction for the 2023 season is that the Buckeyes will score at least five defensive touchdowns. Last season Iowa scored six, and while I don’t think the Buckeyes will match that, I think they get close.

With a more dominant defensive line and a defense that has upgraded its athletic talent, I think once someone gets their hands on the ball there’s always going to be a threat to score. Ohio State has much more speed on their defense in 2023, and I believe they have a secondary that should get more deflections and interceptions.

Ohio State scored multiple defensive touchdowns last season but was not spectacularly good at forcing takeaways. I think that changes this year and they help their offense out by putting points on the board.

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