It's Time for the Silver Bullets to Come Back Home
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Something has been missing from the Ohio State football program the last two years, and it's not a mystery. When we sit at the dining room table of kickoff, we can see that there has been a setting placed for the defense, and yet that seat has gone unfilled since 2010.
The desire for all is that one day the Ohio State defense will return and take its rightful place at the table. Their placesetting is a hopeful reminder of what used to be, and what could be again, one day.
Could "one day" start on Saturday? Possibly. That's the plan, anyway. But plans aren't results, and they never have been.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State had the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year last year in John Simon, as well as one of the conference's best linebackers in Ryan Shazier, yet it wasn't until fullback Zach Boren was moved to defense that the Buckeyes had what we could consider an above average defense.
If you look at the numbers however, calling the defense with Boren on it "above average" is probably a stretch. In the six games with Boren in the middle, the Buckeyes gave up 49, 22, 23, 22, 14 and 21 points respectively. That equates to 25.2 points per game, which is nearly five points per game more than they gave up during the first half of the season. Yes, Indiana's 49 points skews things, but it still happened.
The point is that even though the defense seemed better and looked better, it still wasn't close to the standard that Ohio State coaches had set over the last century.
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer knows that last year's defense wasn't up to any kind of standard, not his, not OSU's. He understands this, and he's obviously attempting to get his defenses on par with past Buckeye teams of note.
While we wait, however, all we can do is sit and wonder if this version of an Ohio State defense won't be worrisome from start to finish.
Consider that in their last two seasons, 12 of 16 Big Ten opponents have scored at least 20 points against the Buckeyes. That same mark was accomplished just 10 times over Jim Tressel's final six seasons with Jim Heacock at the helm of the defensive ship.
An argument can be made that recruiting dipped a bit under Tressel, but what does that have to do with blown fundamentals and miscommunications?
Remember the 2004 defense that still stinks in your nose? That team gave up 18.2 points per game. Last season, the Buckeyes gave up nearly five more points per game than that, and in 2011 that number was just a tad better at 21.0 points per game.
The Ohio State defense has finished sixth in the Big Ten in scoring each of the last two seasons. It finished fifth in the darkness known as 2004. Every year between 2005 and 2010, however, they were first or second in the Big Ten, with their highest total being 15.2 points per game in 2005, which also led the conference.
What the Buckeyes have put on the field the last two seasons is not the Ohio State defense that the nation has come to expect, and it certainly hasn't been the Silver Bullets that fans expect.
Meyer is promising a more aggressive defense this season, and that should create more negative plays for the Buckeyes, but it will also put more pressure on each player to keep the big plays from happening. Will this be the year they prove that they can handle it?
While Ohio State has a young defense, that youth is some of the best in the nation. The same can be said of the veterans. Every returning starter on this Buckeye defense is a candidate to be All-Big Ten this season, so you would think that would bring with it a defense that knows what it's doing.
In the past, there was never a doubt that an Ohio State defense would step up. This current unsurety that the Buckeyes have been under now for two years is not a familiar feeling, nor is it acceptable at a place like OSU.
The time to answer these questions starts on Saturday, but it will carry on all season long, because that's just how the past couple of teams have conditioned us.
It doesn't matter anymore what people expect from an Ohio State defense, because the expectations have been on a different level with reality of late.
If this Buckeye defense gives up another 20 points per game, then it would seem that something is indeed broken and needs to be fixed. In fact, no Ohio State defense has ever given up 20 points per game for three consecutive seasons.
Offenses are much more sophisticated today than they were even 15 years ago, but that doesn't explain why the Buckeyes are a middle-of-the-pack defense in a middle-of-the-pack defensive conference.
Ohio State needs to show everyone that the Silver Bullets are back, and they don't need to do it for the fans or the voters, they need to do it for themselves. That's the only way they'll learn that the last two years isn't the norm, it's the exception, and it's grossly unacceptable.
Saturday begins the most important season that Ohio State has seen in a few years, and if the Buckeye defense isn't where it's supposed to be, this season won't end as players, coaches and fans want it to.
So it's time for the Silver Bullets to come home. Fans are willing to forgive you for your two-year walkabout. Take a seat at the dining room table. Let's all catch up on the good times.
Come home, Silver Bullets.
Ohio State has left your room exactly the way it was when you left – full of scuff marks, shattered quarterbacks and broken facemasks.
Come home, Silver Bullets. You've been gone long enough.
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