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The Northern Illinois football team's defense piles onto Ohio University's Runningback Sieh Bangura (22) during the Ohio University vs Northern Illinois Huskies football game on Oct. 22, 2022 in Athens, Ohio.

Football Column: Ohio's defense has stepped up in a big way early on in 2023

At this time last year, the story of Ohio football was an offense that looked unstoppable to any school it faced and a defense that provided little to no help. After its first three games of the season, it’s safe to say that that narrative has flipped for the 2023 season. 

After three games in 2022, the Bobcats allowed just over 42 points per game, including an abysmal performance in Week One against recent foe, Florida Atlantic. Ohio surrendered 38 points to FAU in Week Two of 2023. Ohio held the same offense to just 10 total points (seven resulting from a pick-6 surrendered by the Ohio offense). 

Veteran players have rallied behind second-year defensive coordinator Spence Nowinski to get off to a fast start on defense, something the team couldn’t do despite an overall successful season in 2022. 

2022 wasn’t all bad for the Ohio defense. Toward the end of the season in conference play, the team seemed to find a spark and bring it all together. In its final three regular season games, the Ohio defense allowed just over 17 points per game.  

Whatever that spark was has seemingly carried over into a new season. 

With star quarterback Kurtis Rourke sidelined with injury for all but one game this season, the defense has been called upon to step up as the offense handles more than a few injury woes. 

The whole defense deserves credit for the team’s recent success, as the whole unit has seemed to truly click in the opening weeks. However, one player has shined through putting up potential defensive player of the year type numbers - Bryce Houston. 

Through three games so far this season, Houston has 28 total tackles, leading all of the Mid-American Conference with a margin of four tackles separating him from second place. 

Keye Thompson is another veteran who has been a leader on the field for Ohio in 2023. Thompson had a team-leading seven tackles against Florida Atlantic, which helped Ohio gather its most impressive win of the season so far.

Auston Brawley is another returning player who has put up impressive stats so far with a team-leading two interceptions, including one against former Big Ten quarterback Casey Thompson, who now plays for FAU. 

In 2022, Ohio beat FAU 41-38 in a game where Rourke established himself as a threat at Ohio. This season - it wasn’t Rourke or the offense that proved itself against FAU.In a 17-10 win, the Ohio defense cemented itself as a threat to any team that stands in its way on Saturdays.


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