With quarterback Braxton Miller running Urban Meyer's spread system, Ohio State's offense operated at a record-breaking efficiency in 2013. The high-flying Buckeyes scored points at a historic rate on their way to a second consecutive undefeated regular season.
A beleaguered defense, however, cost Ohio State a chance to play for a national title. The Buckeyes were one victory away from punching their ticket to Pasadena, Calif., but Michigan State ran through the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game. Clemson did the same thing four weeks later in the Discover Orange Bowl, handing Ohio State its second loss in as many games.
If the Buckeyes hope to make a run at major college football's first playoff, they'll need dramatic improvement on that side of the ball.
Despite this year's poor results, Meyer has lofty expectations for his defense.
"Is it what we expect? No, we expect a top 10 defense at Ohio State," Meyer said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.
The Buckeyes were far from that this season. Ohio State ranked 46th in total defense, giving up an average of 377 yards per game. The Buckeyes were particularly bad against the pass, ranking 110th out of 123 teams after allowing an average of 268 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks.
It was late in the season, as if the defense were deteriorating, when things fell apart for Ohio State.
|Ohio State's Defense in Final 5 Games|
|Opponent||Passing Yards Allowed||Total Yards Allowed||Points|
Looking ahead to next season, the Buckeyes will return six of seven starters in the front seven, but they'll be losing two of their best defenders in linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. In total, the secondary will need three new starters.
Fortunately for Ohio State, there are a number of young players who appear to be primed for stardom.
Soon-to-be sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa was sensational in his first year, beating out sophomore standout Adolphus Washington for a starting position. Freshman Safety Vonn Bell, making his first start in the Orange Bowl, showcased impressive athleticism.
Those two freshmen made the biggest defensive plays of the game.
In the first quarter with Clemson backed up at its own 1-yard line, Bosa blew through the offensive line and forced an intentional grounding call on quarterback Tajh Boyd, resulting in a safety. In the second quarter, the Tigers were threatening inside Ohio State's 10-yard line before Bell made a leaping interception on a flip pass from Boyd.
According to Rowland's article, these are the kind of players defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is expecting to step up and turn things around for the Buckeyes:
Those guys fought for every single one of those seniors. They had a great week of practice and were excited to play. I think we found some guys that we know are going to be really good players in the future.
If playmakers don't step up defensively, the 2014 season will look a lot like 2013.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.