2019 Opponent Unit Ranking: Defensive Lines

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

Written by Amanda Pavelka

The Hoosier Huddle team will be ranking the position groups for each one of Indiana’s opponents. Today we will outline each one of the Defensive Lines that the Hoosiers will face in the upcoming season.

1. Michigan State- It’s the same story but just a different year for Sparty’s historically-dominant defensive line. The Big Ten opponents thought they may have a chance against Michigan State in 2019 until Kenny Willekes’ NFL plans were put on hold after he suffered a broken leg in the Redbox Bowl. Willekes finished with 20.5 tackles for loss to go along with 8.5 sacks. With the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the year ready to roll for his last year of eligibility, and every other starting defensive lineman returning, Michigan State will be the defensive line to beat. MSU starts as No. 6 nationally in Athlon’s preseason ranking, and No. 2 in the Big Ten. Phil Steele has Michigan State’s DL at No. 4 nationally in his preseason rankings.

2. Ohio State- Going into the new era, with Ryan Day replacing Urban Meyer as OSU head coach, Ohio State continues their elite status going into the 2019 season as No. 1 Defensive Line in the Big Ten (Athlon). Athlon has the Buckeyes’ DL at No. 5 nationally, even with the loss of Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones to the NFL. The Buckeye DL relies on Chase Young to add on to his sophomore breakout season performance, a team-leading 9.5 sacks. The 6-5, 265-pound end was chosen Preseason All-American Team by both Athlon and Steele. This is not DL coach and assistant coach Larry Johnson’s first rodeo developing a successful team. With seven of the top 11 men returning, Ohio State’s DL will without a doubt give Indiana a hard time this season. There’s no getting lucky there.

 3. Penn State- Penn State is another one of those teams that will really give Indiana a run for its money on defense. The Nittany Lions’ defensive line is led by DE Yetur Gross-Matos, Jr. and tops preseason polls at No. 7 nationally (Athlon), No. 3 in the Big Ten (Athlon), and No. 9 nationally (Steele). The 6-5, 265-pound defensive end finished his sophomore breakout season with 8 sacks and 20 TFLs. As a result, PSU led the FBS with 3.6 sacks per game and finished the 2018 season fourth in TFLs, averaging 8.2 per game. With that being said, not all players will be returning to the Penn State DL for the 2019 season. Filling the cleats of two-time 3rd team Big Ten DE Shareef Miller and DT Kevin Givens will be a pair of juniors who are solid candidates— DT Antonio Shelton and DE Shaka Toney, and a pack of highly-touted Nittany Lions to. Back them up and make an impact in the seasons to come. As for the upcoming season, consider the Penn State squad amongst the strongest in the nation— another elite DL the Hoosiers must be prepared to face.

 4. Michigan- Michigan’s defensive line has been packed with talent the past few years, and it does not appear to be a department they will be struggling with anytime soon. The loss of DL coach Greg Mattison to the arch-enemy Ohio State was a big blow, but his replacement, Shaun Nua, has four of the top five guys returning on the defensive line. The Wolverines lost a leading DL in Chase Winovich, who started all 13 games in 2018 and led the DL with 69 tackles and five sacks. Undoubtedly a loss, Nua has players to work with and Phil Steele ranks Michigan’s new DL system at No. 13 in the nation.

5. Northwestern- All eyes are on Joe Gaziano to go out with a bang in his senior season on the Wildcat defensive line. The 6-4, 265-pound two-time second team All-Big Ten end led the Northwestern squad with 7.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2018. The Wildcats will be without both starting tackles in the upcoming season, but have a couple guys with experience to help fill the inside gap. Northwestern defensive line comes in at No. 18 nationally in Phil Steele’s preseason unit ranks. Athlon has Northwestern as the No. 6 DL in the Big Ten.

 6. Nebraska- Boasting a 3-4 alignment, the Cornhuskers will return four of their top five defensive linemen. In their second season under Erik Chanander’s system, Nebraska’s defense looks to make up for their historical let-down of a 2018 season where they allowed the third-most yards (433.5) and points (31.3ppg) in 72 years. Steele generously gave the Nebraska defensive line the No. 48 spot, and Athlon has them at No. 8 in the Big Ten.

 7. Purdue- The Boilermakers’ defensive line is one of the most important for Indiana to prepare for. Not only will the Hoosiers be in enemy territory, but a bowl game could most definitely be on the line. Indiana caved and gave Purdue the win they needed for a bowl last season. All four starters on the Boiler DL will be back with another year of experience under their belts. Derrick Barnes Jr. will be at LEO, and their newest defensive threat lies in five-star defensive end George Karlaftis who is ready to make an immediate impact. Add the toughness of playing at Ross-Ade to last year’s heartbreaking loss and you have a definite challenge for Indiana’s grit.

 8. Rutgers- Lack of depth has plagued Rutgers football in recent years, and 2019 does not look to be any different for the Scarlet Knights, who sit at the bottom of the Big Ten in Phil Steele’s defensive line ranks. Rutgers hopes the addition of new co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh will lead them in the upward direction. Rutgers head Coach Chris Ash hired Buh alongside Noah Joseph with plans of duplicating efforts Ash and Buh made at Wisconsin— a defensive system they transformed that ended up ranking 89th nationally in points allowed (31.4ppg) in the 2018 season. Even with a 1-11 record, the Scarlet Knights held their opponents to a low pass completion rate of 55.6 percent, 29th in FBS in 2018. Athlon has the Rutgers at a generous No. 13 in the Big Ten, only above Maryland. Steele puts the rebooting program at the bottom (No.14) of the B1G.

 9. Maryland— Coming off a tragic season after the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair at a team workout, Mike Locksley hopes to restore the Maryland Terrapin football program. The Terps’ defensive line is in rebuild mode as they lost their top three defensive linemen. Phil Steele has the Terps’ DL tied with Indiana at 11th in the Big Ten. Athlon was less than generous, placing them at the bottom of the B1G. Only time will tell the Maryland squad’s potential with new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s 3-4 system.

10. Ball State- The current Ball State defensive line does not seem weak when you compare it to the 2018 season. The Cardinals cut points allowed per game nearly in half, going from 40.7 ppg in 2017 to 23.9 ppg through seven games last fall. Injuries destroyed the depth and the Cardinal defense had a massive fallout, allowing 44.4 ppg in their final five games. With four out of five top defensive lineman returning, the Cardinals look like they are in better shape for the upcoming season. Defensive end Shannon Hall leads the defensive line stats with 8 ST, 40TKLs, and 5 TFLs. BSU’s defensive line sits at No. 11 in the Mid-American Conference, according to Athlon.

11. Connecticut- Up is the only direction possible for UConn’s defensive line that hit rock bottom with their historically-terrible defensive marks for the 2018 season. The Huskies allowed a record-setting 50.4 points per game, and an inexcusable 617.4 yards for their opponents, with the 58th toughest schedule in college football (Steele). Under new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, and with a year of growth for the super young defensive line, all four sophomores will come back more prepared for the college field, but I would not place a bet on them posing a real threat to the Hoosiers, especially in Bloomington.

12. Eastern Illinois- Former All-Big Ten defensive linemen Deonte Gibson, who recorded 15 sacks for Northwestern, joined the EIU coaching staff in the offseason. The Panthers only tallied 10 sacks, less than one per game, and 64 tackles for loss. End D’Mitri George is their most productive returning defensive lineman. He made 14 tackles with 2.5 coming for a loss.