Blown Coverage Costs Buckeyes in Overtime
By Brandon Castel
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Robert Marve never expected to see a wide-open receiver running across the middle of the field, but there he was.
Facing a 3rd-and-12 in overtime, Marve saw Gary Bush streaking across the middle uncovered by Ohio State’s defense.
“I ran an under route across the middle. I caught Marve’s eye and went straight for the sideline,” said the sophomore receiver.
“He made the throw and I tried to get my feet down.”
Marve was rolling to his right with pressure in his face, but it was an easy throw and catch for the senior out of Tampa, Fla. Bush got his foot down and was pushed out of bounds by OSU safety C.J. Barnett just shy of the goal line.
It was a back-breaker for the Buckeyes, who seemed destined for double-overtime after they stopped Justin Siller for a five-yard loss on 2nd-and-7. All they had to do was prevent the big play on 3rd-and-long to keep the game alive in West Lafayette.
“The communication was a problem,” Barnett said after the game.
“Just guys talking to guys that aren't paying attention. Guys not paying attention. I don't know. We've just got to play better and get focused in. We can't take anything for granted. Every play is the most important.”
It looked like Barnett and fellow safety Christian Bryant had gotten mixed up on the play and things broke down when Marve scrambled out of the pocket to his right. Bryant was late getting back and Barnett couldn’t get there fast enough to make a play on Bush.
“I’m going to have to see what happened in film,” Bryant said.
“I think it was a communication issue to be honest with you but I’m not really sure what happened with that play.”
If it was a communication issue, this would be the second time in three games that a breakdown has cost the Buckeyes a lead late in the fourth quarter. It happened two weeks ago against Wisconsin, when Ohio State allowed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Russell Wilson to wideout Jared Abbrederis.
On the second one, Abbrederis was so wide open down the right sideline that he practically walked into the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown that gave Wisconsin a 29-26 lead with 1:18 to play.
The coaches took some responsibility for that breakdown.
“There’s a couple calls we probably sit there and say we probably shouldn’t have called at that time,” safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said during the week.
“Not to put them in the best situation.”
Whatever the issue was, defensive breakdowns are becoming a major problem for an Ohio State team that used to being carried by the defense. The Buckeyes have been among the top five in the country in total defense and scoring defense nearly every year since Jim Heacock took over as the defensive coordinator in 2005.
They are currently ranked No. 15 in the country in both categories, but they have to be near the top when it comes to missed tackles.
“Our tackling wasn't that great,” Barnett said afterward.
“We were improving, but I think we're just a little bit over-aggressive. We go for kill shots a lot. Not being fundamentally sound.”
Ohio State’s coaches have continually preached fundamentals since the defense missed 27 tackles in their 24-6 loss at Miami (Fla.). Haynes called that “by far” the most missed tackles he has seen in his seven seasons with the Buckeyes, but things have not gotten much better over the course of the season.
“They harp on tackling. It's not their fault, they make it a point of emphasis during practice,” Barnett said of the coaches.
“We've just got to come out here and execute. Play low and wrap up.”
The Buckeyes did a much better job of that in the second half, as they held Purdue’s offense to just three points before the start of overtime. That allowed for Ohio State’s offense to make a comeback with two second-half touchdowns—one on a six-yard run by Braxton Miller and the other a 13-yard pass to Jordan Hall—but the defense knows it cannot put the offense in a hole early on the way it has the last two weeks.
“It's just a problem with us of starting fast. Our coaches are preaching that a lot and we continue not to start fast,” Barnett said shaking his head.
“It's on us. There has to be leaders on the defense. Myself and others have to lead the defense. Get more excited. Come out swinging out of the game instead of just being passive.”
It didn’t help that the Buckeyes lost senior linebacker Andrew Sweat to a head injury in the first quarter, but this is the second week in a row where they put their offense in a 10-0 hole by the end of the first quarter.
“We didn’t start the game off right,” Head Coach Luke Fickell said.
“We didn’t start out the game fast enough. We lost the field position battle early in the game. It put us behind to start the game off. This team isn’t built to be a team that comes from behind.”
The problem is, this defense isn’t built to hold leads either. Maybe that’s why the Buckeyes are a 6-4 football team heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
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