Fickell Faces Questions About Offense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — By his own admission, Luke Fickell has not had very much influence over Ohio State’s offense this season.
He was never expected to. Unlike his predecessor, Fickell has spent his life on the other side of the ball trying to make life miserable for opposing offenses.
Unfortunately for Fickell, his offense has been pretty miserable at times this season. The Buckeyes are currently last in the Big Ten in passing offense and their total is so low that they are ahead of only Minnesota in total offense.
Fickell was asked about that very topic Tuesday during his weekly press luncheon.
Q. As a defensive coach, when you look at what your offense does, what are your impressions? What are they trying to do?
COACH FICKELL: “They're trying to control the ball, but we all know there has to be some balance. There was a tough situation, compounded it with obviously not winning a toss, and having the wind in your face to start the game. There are some things that you've just got to be able to make a few yards and rely on some of those guys up front even if they are putting in the extra guys.
“I think that was maybe the philosophy a little bit. When it works, it doesn't get as many questions that it doesn't work quite as well. Obviously there are a lot more questions. We all know. We've said it a million times, balance has got to be the key. We've got to create and find some more of that whether it's throwing it or screening it or drawing it like the guy from the quarterback club said. That's a part of continuing to get better at.”
Fickell is hopeful that getting senior wideout DeVier Posey back from his 10-game suspension will help the Buckeyes create more of a balanced attack offensively in the last two games of the regular season.
Q. What do you expect DeVier's return to do for the offense both in passes he might catch, but also having a veteran receiver presence that make opens things up for the offense as a whole?
COACH FICKELL: “Hopefully it gives him spark, kind of like it did with Boom (Herron). He's been the guy that throughout this entire process, I promise you the guy's respect for the way he's handled himself, the way he's practiced, what he's shown he's learned from the situation, and hopefully that gives him a spark.
“Obviously, he's a senior. He'll be playing his last game at home, and those guys, just like when Boom, you look around and you're in a huddle and you've got a guy that's got some confidence and has been there and done it, hopefully they can feed off of that. That's what we're looking for.”
One of the knocks on Ohio State’s offense this season has been their inability to get the ball to junior tight end Jake Stoneburner, even after he caught four touchdown passes in the first two games of the season. He has only four catches in the last eight games.
Q. The tight end doesn't really seem to be much of a target. Is that a case of play calling or coaching decisions or Braxton maybe not going through progressions the way he should be or needs to be?
COACH FICKELL: “It still comes down to it sometimes when people are going to play you, man, you've got to get open. I'm not saying it's just on a specific guy, but sometimes you've got to do some different things. I don't know. Things are called for those guys at times and it's still a whole part of the whole thing. We can sit here and say they can ask questions saying you had guys beat down the field. Is the quarterback too worried about throwing an interception, so he overthrows him?
“No, those aren't the things. It still comes down to it's a whole scheme. Sometimes when you call a play and the protection breaks down because the tight end is released, there are things that compound on it. No, we still know our tight end is a target. We still believe those guys can be very effective for us. We've just got to do a better job at getting them some other opportunities and hitting them when we have a chance.
“He almost made a play on the very first third down. I'm not saying it was to him. But it still comes down to having the ability to make plays when they come about, you know? Defensively, the ball's on the ground three times in the first half, fumbles, dropped, whatever. We didn't get either of the three, or any of the three. Those are the differences in the ball games.”
That was compounded by the fact Ohio State’s defense could not get off the field on third down, especially in the first half, and on the 3rd-and-12 in overtime.
Q. Defensively for a long time you've been very good at getting teams off the field on third downs. The last couple of weeks though I think converting like 58% opponents. Is there a common denominator? What do you see happening? What has to change on that?
COACH FICKELL: “We've got to make a few more plays. When you break those stats down, that is the last two weeks where we've been probably poorest, and sometimes when you just look at third downs in general, if you're good on third down, it's probably because you had a lot more third and seven to tens than you did from third to three to fives.
“So those things add in there. We look at third down, but a lot of times that's first and second down that figures into that as well. Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. You have to get off the field on third down. We have to do a better job whether that's getting to the quarterback, covering up receivers. We know that, and that's where we're focused.”
That task might be a little tougher this week without two key defensive players. Linebacker Andrew Sweat will likely miss the game with a head injury, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins’ status is in question after he injured his knee late in the fourth quarter against Purdue.
Q. Can you give us an update on Andrew Sweat, and Johnathan Hankins, what their status is? It looked like Andrew might be iffy or whatever?
COACH FICKELL: “Yeah, I don't know, like we've heard that it's probably real good to show him stumbling around, if that was the case. He got hit. Don't know if he's going to be available for who knows how long. The biggest concern is that we make sure he gets OK regardless of the football aspect of things. There are a lot of things there that we don't know about just yet.
“Big John, don't know. He didn't make it back into the football game. Right now it doesn't look probably real good. We'll see as the week moves along. We've got maybe some decent news that hopefully it wasn't getting the MRI results back, hopefully it's not a season ending one of those things. So we're not positive just yet.”
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