Meyer Wants More Press, but Can Ohio State Handle the Pressure?
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer would like to see his team play more press-man coverage on the outside, but that might be easier said than done for this 2012 Ohio State defense.
Especially with the way opposing offenses have decided to attack the Buckeyes this season, which is to keep the ball away from Ohio State’s strength on the defensive line.
“Here’s the thing: We’ve been spread from sideline-to-sideline,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach said this week.
“And if you press all the time and you’re up there in everybody’s face, there’s not enough in the box to stop the run. You’ve got to be man-to-man on every guy on the field. I like it. But can you do it on every snap? No. Do we need to do it more? Yes.”
It would appear, at least to the outside observer, Ohio State actually has three cornerbacks who are capable of walking up to the line of scrimmage and putting a hand on the receivers before they can get off the line of scrimmage.
Redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby had better be able to do that if he’s going to live up to his billing as a potential future first-day pick in the NFL Draft. Travis Howard might be the weakest of the group when it comes to playing physical and bullying a receiver at the line.
Sophomore Doran Grant, however, looks another potential star in the making for cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs and Withers, who helps coach the secondary under first-year defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I think we’ve got three corners that are capable,” Withers said of Roby, Howard and Grant.
“I really do. I think we’ve got three guys that can walk up and press guys. I’ve seen a lot of them in my time and I think the three guys we have can do that.”
The problem may not be at cornerback.
The Buckeyes expect to get Roby back this week after he missed the UAB game with a shoulder injury, but Ohio State can only match their two with so many receivers. Even in the nickel, playing man defense could put an unsustainable amount of pressure on the OSU linebackers.
“When we get the personnel in there I believe we have to stress our corners a little more. The problem is when you stress corners means linebacker has to play man coverage on someone,” Meyer said this week.
“That's what we did a couple times against Cal. And that was a problem. So make the corners play man, but there's three other receivers somewhere you have to cover as well.”
Not to mention a quarterback who can take off an run at any moment. That may not be the case this week against Michigan State, but it will certainly rear its ugly head again in week two of the Big Ten schedule, when the Buckeyes welcome Taylor Martinez and Nebraska Cornhuskers to Columbus.
“When you’re seeing three and four and sometimes five wide receiver sets, you have to make a decision of how many guys you’re going to leave in the box to stop the run,” Withers added.
“And teams that run the zone-read, you’ve got to count the quarterback in the equation and you don’t have a guy in man coverage for the quarterback.”
The Buckeyes could always use a spy to cover Martinez, and any other mobile quarterbacks they may face the rest of the season, but that probably takes a safety out of pass coverage. Which once again means a linebacker could end up in man-to-man on a wide receiver somewhere.
That’s certainly not what this defensive staff is hoping for.
“So, you have to be careful about saying you want to be a man-coverage team,” Withers said.
“Yes, we would love to play more man to stop some of the bubbles and stop some of the quick passing game. We’d love to. But we also have to account for that quarterback too. So, when people give us the formations to play a little bit more man, we need to play a little bit more man and we will.”
That could come as early as this week. The Buckeyes face a much more traditional Big Ten offense in Michigan State, who comes in with the conference’s leading-rusher, a Columbus-native who just so happens to be a 245-pound battering ram.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I think our defense is kind of built for this,” Meyer said Monday.
“It's not built for sideline to sideline, dinks and dunks. So that's a challenge, the conversation that I have with our defensive staff as well.”
Without B.J. Cunningham, another Columbus kid who roasted the Buckeyes last season, the Spartans have been very average at the wide receiver position this season. Junior Benny Fowler is the best of the bunch, but this is looks like a mismatch for the OSU corners.
If they are ever going to play in the receiver’s face, this might be the time to do it.
“I think we’ve got guys that are physical enough to re-route receivers and stay on top of receivers,” Withers said.
“So, obviously we want to be able to do that stuff. But when you’re playing a team that runs the zone read, sometimes it’s hard to be a man-coverage team. I think this week gives us an opportunity to maybe do a little bit more of that.”
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