A year ago, Hustle Belt named Ohio Bobcats defensive end Tarell Basham the No. 9 player in the MAC and for good reason. In 2013, his first season in Athens, Basham was named a Freshman All-American, despite only starting five games, had 7.5 sacks. In Basham, Ohio had found a serious pass rusher to anchor the defense. And it made this amazing video possible:
Basham, however, didn't quite have the same production levels in his second season, as he had just five sacks on the year and five quarterback hurries. In conference pay, Basham didn't have any game of more than three tackles and didn't force a single fumble. Ohio's defensive was still good without Basham causing constant havoc - the emergence of linebacker Quentin Poling certainly played a part in that - but it could have been even better had Basham been impactful as he was as a freshman. He was not an enforcer, at least not in a way that maximized his potential.
In fairness, Basham's dip in production wasn't entirely his fault. Along the defensive line, Basham was clearly the best player and the most dangerous. The rest of the defensive line wasn't bad per say, but they didn't individually create havoc and take advantage of one-on-one match ups. In addition, Ohio's defensive isn't particularly aggressive - defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow isn't one to dial up consistent blitzes - and relies heavily on the front four to create pressure. As a result, teams were free to double-team Basham. Looking back at last season, almost every team Ohio faced shaded helped towards Basham and even if he beat his man, there was often a back waiting for him the backfield.
This raises some worry about how good Basham actually is. One-season wonders are a sports cliche, but they are so because there are so many of them. It's one thing to be good when no expects you to be, but it's a whole lot harder to be good when the opposition is game planning to stop you.
Heading into his junior year, Basham is expected to be an enforcer once again. The potential is certainly there - despite standing 6'4" and weighing 250 pounds, Basham has a quick first step without giving up strength - but it'll require Basham to return to his freshman year form.
The good news for Basham is that Ohio's defense is built in a way that theoretically will allow Burrow to more aggressive than he has been in years past. In the secondary, Ohio has three top-flight corners in seniors Ian Wells, Brett Layton and Devin Bass. At linebacker, redshirt senior Jovon Johnson and redshirt senior Blair Brown join Poling to give Ohio three solid starters. Up front, junior Casey Sayles, a team captain, joins a unit that returns several significant contributors from last season.
Ideally, Ohio's identity - really good defense, A.J. Ouellette carrying the ball over and over, Josiah Yazdani making every field goal - should allow for Basham to get more one-on-one opportunities than last season. If that happens, expect Basham to again be an enforcer.