Lukas Moore --
The Bobcats defense took a lot of criticism in the early portions of the 2018 season. Week after week passing games were tearing apart the Ohio defense. The secondary couldn't tackle, and the inexperienced line and linebacking core struggled to put pressure on the quarterback. They allowed multiple record-setting performances to opposing wideouts and offenses. The atrocious start defensively in non-conference play spoiled the reputation of the Ohio defense for 2018.
That reputation, however, gets better and better when looking at their performance in the MAC. Ohio only allowed 20.9 points a game to MAC teams, good for second in the conference. The Bobcats also finished 3rd in yards allowed within conference play. A huge reason for this improvement was the play of the defensive line.
The young unit grew in front of our eyes, finishing with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) overall grade of 87.6 overall as a unit, that was 2nd in the MAC and 18th in the FBS. PFF also says the Bobcats had the best defensive line against the run in the MAC, with a PFF grade of 89.7. However, they only ranked 6th in the conference in rushing the passer with a PFF grade of 74.0
But who returns for Ohio? And how did they perform last year? Let's look at the PFF grades for the significant returners on the Ohio front.
Will Evans - DE - RS Jr - 6'2 250 - PFF Grade: 81.8
Evans is the most talented returnee on the Ohio defensive line, and his grade in 2018 reflects that. Evans recorded six tackles for loss and two sacks a season ago for Ohio. Evans was the premiere pass rusher on a team that struggled to rush the passer at times. If Ohio wants to be an above average pass rush in the MAC, which would help out an already talented secondary, Evans will have had to make that next step towards elite. He certainly has the talent for it, and is close to wreaking havoc all over the MAC.
Sam McKnight - DE - RS Sr - 6'3 235 - PFF Grade: 78.9
In the traditional statistics, McKnight actually performed right along with Evans. The Cleveland Heights native recorded two and a half sacks and five tackles for loss. His PFF Grade also isn't too far behind the talented Evans. McKnight even struggled with injuries through the 2018 season according to The Athens Messenger. Despite all this McKnight is listed as a backup behind both Evans and Amos Ogun-Semore by The Athens Messenger. Ohio tends to run a deep rotation on the line, so McKnight will see plenty of snaps in his final season as a Bobcat.
Amos Ogun-Semore - DE - RS So - 6'5 235 - PFF Grade: 72.0
Perhaps the most intimidating man of the unit the young Ogun-Semore was impressive in his freshman season. He logged two and a half sacks and started twelve of Ohio's thirteen games. Ogun-Semore has the raw potential to be a dominant pass rusher in the MAC. He's long at 6'5 and his athleticism will only improve in the Ohio program. If he can just add consistency to his game he can be a really special player for the Bobcats.
Cole Baker - DT - SR - 6'2 280 - PFF Grade: 71.6
I am a big fan of the first two seasons of the show Last Chance U that featured East Mississippi Community College. This automatically makes me a big fan of Cole Baker who is an alum of the famed "Scooba Tech". Although Baker wasn't featured in the show, he did win a national championship with the Lions. He had his moments in his first season of division 1 football; forcing a fumble and recording four tackles for loss. The Bobcats lost Kent Berger and Andrew Payne inside to graduation, putting Baker in a crucial spot in maintaining the Bobcats run defense. Baker and RS Sr Brian Arp will anchor the inside of Ohio's defensive line as a collection of sophomores develop in the rotation. Baker should be a reliable run stopper for the Bobcats.
Ohio lost the biggest strength of its surprisingly elite 2018 defensive line in the run stoppers Berger and Payne. But, they had depth at their position and return tons of potential on the outside. Ohio will need a more consistent pass rush in 2019 if they want to elevate the defense to an elite level. They need guys who can get to the quarterback without assistance from stunts and blitz packages. But, even if the pass rush isn't greatly improved, I expect Ohio to have a sturdy defensive line capable of making plays.