This did not look like the same Ohio State defense that has been among the best in the country at stopping the run over the last decade. The Buckeyes finished third in the country in rushing defense last season at just over 96 yards allowed per game.
The Hurricanes had 240 yards on the ground in their 24-6 win over Ohio State.
“We missed a couple of tackles and they were off to the races. That was one thing defensively that we pride ourselves on, not giving up big plays,” said first-year OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell.
“Some of those where they got around the edge are things we an correct, but those big plays are things that are going to eat us alive.”
They certainly did in this game. Miami tailback Lamar Miller gashed the Buckeyes for 54 yards on his first carry of the game. He would have 128 yards by halftime and finished with 184 of Miami’s 240 yards on the ground, as the ‘Canes averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
“We just have to do our job. We've got to take our gaps and the main thing is make tackles,” sophomore safety C.J. Barnett said.
“I missed a few tackles, we all missed tackles. We just have to correct that stuff.”
If only it were that simple.
The players knew they were not going to enjoy Sunday’s film session, but the defensive guys had to feel a little better than those on offense. After all, the Buckeyes held Miami to just 10 points after the first quarter. They had shut them out for the entire second half before the Hurricanes punched in a late touchdown.
It seemed like the defense rose to the occasion after that early barrage by Miller and the Hurricanes. That’s not the way the coaches saw it.
“I think we had 27 missed tackles and that’s big for us,” said junior defensive lineman John Simon, who served as a captain for the game.
“We just have to make sure this week in practice that we’re squaring up on the running backs and making tackles when we need to make them.”
A lot of the credit has to go to Lamar Miller, who has made a lot of tacklers look bad so far this season. Miami’s sophomore tailback has already run for 303 yards and a touchdown after just two games. He is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and is also the team’s top return man on kickoffs.
He is going to make a lot more defenders miss before this season is over, but that still doesn’t excuse the exceptionally high number of missed tackles for Ohio State over the last two games.
“You always want to have zero, so that would be great,” Simon said.
“But single digits would be a great week.”
That Buckeyes once went 29 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. They have now allowed three of them in their last five games dating back to last season.
That doesn’t include the Iowa game, where Marcus Coker and Adam Robinson combined for 97 yards on just 18 carries in a 20-17 loss to the Buckeyes. The following week, Denard Robinson became the second play to eclipse the century mark against Ohio State in 2010 (Wisconsin’s John Clay was the first player to do it 29 games).
Arkansas tailback Knile Davis busted off 139 yards in the Sugar Bowl, and now Miller’s performance has caused major concern with the defensive coaches over Ohio State’s issues with missed tackles.
“The caliber of teams we play, they’re going to make you miss every now and then,” Simon said.
“We just have to make sure we’re wrapping up and bringing running backs down. We just have to make sure we’re breaking down.”
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins believes it all comes back to fundamentals.
“When you see the ball carrier, you can’t get too excited. You just have to bend your knees and make the tackle,” the sophomore said.
“In practice, staying low and holding leverage, not just running wild. Having a good base.”
It seemed like the Buckeyes didn’t do a lot of full-go tackling during fall camp, probably because they were thin at a few key positions and wanted to stay healthy for the start of the season.
Coach Jim Heacock and his staff might be re-thinking that after these past two performances.
“Sometimes in practice when we go thud and stuff, we just tap off,” Simon said.
“Coach Heacock did a good job of explaining this week that we’re going to break down and wrap up the running back.”
Colorado is not one of the top rushing teams in the country—they ranked 85th in yards per game a year ago and 77th so far after three games this year—but tailback Rodney Steward is a dangerous weapon.
The senior out of Westerville, Ohio (Brookhaven) is coming off a 1,300-yard season a year ago and has already racked up 223 yards in the first three games of this season.
“We just can't go out there and roll out our helmets and expect to get a win. We've got to be fundamentally sound and execute,” Barnett said.
“We've got a sign that says one of the things you've got to be able to do to play this game is tackle, and if you can't, you can’t play.”
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