COLUMBUS — They were the first to announce that the 2006 national championship game was going to be a nightmare, not a night to remember for Ohio State.
Florida’s defensive line, led by Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss, dominated Ohio State’s offensive line, sacked Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith five times and played a big role in the Gators’ 41-14 win that night in suburban Phoenix.
Urban Meyer never had a defensive line that good again at Florida and didn’t assemble its equal in his first two years at Ohio State.
But he might have this season. Ohio State fans will cringe at the comparison, but this year’s Buckeyes defensive line is a 2006 Florida type line. It reminds people of what is sometimes called an SEC defensive line — big, quick and relentless.
Senior tackle Junior end Noah Spence, sophomore end Joey Bosa, junior tackle Adolphus Washington and senior tackle Michael Bennett are a group that is in the conversation about the best defensive lines in college football this season.
“2006 was our best defensive line at Florida. This line, if they all stay healthy and perform, could be on that level,” Meyer said. “We have some game changers up front.”
Bennett said, “Our defensive line is the best defensive line in the country.
“We have a ridiculous amount of weapons. Everyone can rush the passer, everyone can stop the run. I think guys are starting to understand we can be the best defensive line. But we have to continue to work for it and not just think we’re the best. We have to prove it every game,” he said.
“We’re not going to be the kind of defensive line that stops you at the line of scrimmage and just creates a wall. We’re going to be the kind of defensive linemen who just shoot through and blow everything up in the backfield.”
Meyer calls Tommy Schutt, a junior tackle, the most improved player on the defense. He says Washington “will be as good as any of them if he gets it all figured out.”
Bennett says Schutt “could start anywhere else in the country and here any other year.”
He calls Bosa “a freak” and says Washington still hasn’t tapped his potential. Spence, who is suspended for the first two games because of testing positive for a banned supplement, had a team-high eight sacks last season.
“I don’t think people should be able to run the ball. I don’t think quarterbacks should be able to hold the ball for more than 3 ½ seconds against our worst rush. It has to be when you’re watching a game, all you see is the defensive line in the backfield,” Bennett said.
One new element in the defensive line equation is the addition of longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson. He replaces Mike Vrabel, who took a job as an assistant coach with the Houston Texans.
Ohio State players noticed a difference right away between the in-your-face style of Vrabel and Johnson’s calmer approach to teaching defense.
“It’s just a different attitude. He’s more positive, I dare say,” Bosa said in March.