Fickell Feeling Heat?

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 10/16/2012 5:00 AM

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Football
Fickell Feeling the Heat?
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has not been a restful two weeks for Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

Luke Fickell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

The man who ran the entire program during one of the most tumultuous seasons in school history a year ago was planning to get a little more sleep as the team’s defensive coordinator this season under first-year head coach Urban Meyer.

Instead, what he’s gotten this season is more criticism than he ever faced as the interim head coach of a 6-7 team a year ago.

“If you can put more pressure on me than I put on myself, then … I don’t know how you could,” Fickell said Monday when he met with the media for the first time since the OSU defense allowed 49 points to Indiana on Saturday.

“I mean, we can give up 14 points and I’m not going to sleep that night thinking, ‘Wow, what could we have done better?’”

There was a lot Ohio State’s defense could have done better against the Hoosiers over the weekend, starting with tackling, leverage, pursuit, coverage, getting off blocks, making plays in the open field and maybe most of all, finishing the game after the offense spotted them an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“I'm not happy at all with what's going on on defense,” Meyer said Monday.

“That includes players, coaches, and I think we can all get better. It's a team effort. We've got good coaches, good players and we'll move forward and get better.”

Over the last two weeks, Ohio State’s defense has allowed 918 yards of offense and 87 points – both victories thanks to the play of Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ suddenly unstoppable offense.

Fickell’s defense has already allowed more points (103) in three Big Ten games this year than the 2010 OSU defense – Jim Tressel’s last season in Columbus – gave up during the entire 8-game conference schedule.

“It's been absurd how many big plays we give up. How do you do that?” Meyer asked.

“Do we want to win 48-47? We want to win, but no. Ohio State is going to be a defensive school. Absolutely. Our teams are going to be defensive, no question.”

That’s the head coach putting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Fickell and the defensive coaching staff at Ohio State, but that’s nothing new for the former Buckeye nose guard and high school state wrestling champ.

“To me, I’ve always been a competitor,” Fickell said.

“I’ve grown up from the time I was 4 or 5 years old as a wrestler and that’s mano-a-mano, that’s a guy who’s basically in a one-on-one fight. You put as much pressure on yourself as you can.

“So, the outside pressures? I don’t know. I don’t feel it. If they’re harder and stronger than I put on myself, then maybe I should go read about it. But there’s no more pressure than I could put up on myself.”

Except maybe if it comes from Meyer himself. The Buckeyes are 7-0 this season under Meyer, which is already more wins than they had under Fickell all of last season. Meyer is know for his intensity and for demanding perfection from his assistant coaches.

He has had great success in the past keeping the defensive coordinator in place at Bowling Green (Tim Beckman), Utah (Kyle Whittingham) and Florida (Charlie Strong), but it’s been a bumpy road so far with Fickell in Columbus.

Meyer isn’t just going to wait around for things to correct themselves, which was evident by his appearance at the defensive meeting on Sunday after that group allowed the most points since 1994.

“He’s come over more, but he’s always been involved,” Fickell said of Meyer’s plan to get more involved in the defense this week.

“I think him coming over there a little more is a motivational type of thing. He’ll point out some things and make things uncomfortable at times, but that’s how you grow.

Right now there's a lot of room for that.

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