COLUMBUS — Raekwon McMillan, who plays with a single-digit number on his jersey, does not need to see big numbers behind his name on the stat sheets, either.
Ohio State’s junior middle linebacker — one of only three returning starters on defense for the Buckeyes — is averaging 6.6 tackles a game, down from the 9.1 tackles he averaged last season.
His high games have been eight stops against Oklahoma and Tulsa. Last year, he had 16 tackles against Western Michigan and 14 against Indiana and Illinois.
That might be an issue with some people. But not for McMillan.
“As long as we’re performing the way we’ve been performing lately, I have no complaints whatsoever. Last year I was getting 16 or 17 tackles a game. We were giving up runs down the middle of the defense. It’s not happening this year,” McMillan said.
“As long as we’re at the top of the nation and at the top of the Big Ten in run defense and not giving up any run touchdowns and playing great defense overall, I have no complaints.
“I’d rather have two tackles and them not score a touchdown. I’m not really worried about records or anything like that. As long as we’re up on the scoreboard and they have less points than us, I’m OK,” he said.
Ohio State is the only FBS school which has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. It is second in the Big Ten in rushing defense behind Wisconsin, its opponent on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, and is ninth nationally.
The Buckeyes’ defense, like its offense, had three returning starters — end Tyquan Lewis, cornerback Gareon Conley and McMillan.
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano calls McMillan “the heart and soul of our defense.”
“He’s just a critical part of everything we do. He’s a very intelligent football player. Having another year under his belt, he makes the adjustments even more quickly,” he said.
McMillan says he has taken more of a leadership role with so few experienced players on OSU’s defense this year.
“I usually have to be the one guy in the middle who is steady minded and stable enough to get everybody right back on track when it’s all going wrong,” he said.
“As you play more games and get more experience, you get calmer when things happen in a game. My freshman year when the offense would have a turnover, I used to go out there stressing, like, ‘Oh man, we’re going to give up a touchdown.’ But this year every time I go out there I feel like it’s another opportunity to show we’re the best defense in the nation.”
McMillan pointed to the improved play of the defensive line as a big reason why his number of tackles has dropped.
“They (the defensive line) create a new line of scrimmage behind the ball. They don’t just wait for the linebackers to run through. They’re going back themselves and trying to make plays. The linebackers might not be getting the tackles but somebody is out there making the tackles,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.