Urban Meyer Seeing More of What He Hates, Which is What He Wants
by Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's a refrain that's been heard around Columbus more than “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on” the last few years – “Why isn't the defense more aggressive?”
It's not just a question being asked of Urban Meyer, it's also a question being asked by Urban Meyer.
The great Ohio State defenses of the past were not passive, they were not some ship passing quietly in the night – they were flying the skull and crossbones and constantly looting and plundering backfields.
When an offense crossed paths with the Buckeyes, they knew that the Silver Bullets would be flying from all directions. Everyone knew it, which is why when those bullets stopped flying around, people began asking questions.
It lasted throughout most of last season, but it was hard for the Buckeyes to be as aggressive as Meyer would like because they had massive issues at linebacker, and the back seven was having enough problems with giving up big plays without adding even more stress by blitzing all the time.
But that didn't stop Meyer from wanting a more attacking defense.
This season, while still not at the level he wants them, the Buckeye linebackers are much more capable of attacking a defense, but it still wasn't happening at the rate that Meyer wanted.
He put out the mandate prior to the Penn State game, however, and decided that they were not going to let freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg simply sit back in the pocket and throw the football. That aggression led to four sacks and two interceptions, and eventually Hackenberg had to leave the game with an injury.
Meyer got the aggression that he wanted, and the Buckeyes got the result that they desired. It wasn't a coincidence according to Meyer.
“I think a disruptive defense is hard to go – I'm an offensive guy – disruptive defenses are very hard to work against. I'm glad we played the way we did because I was starting to get a little concerned.”
That concern has been building, but Meyer sees a possible corner being turned.
“I think it's frustrating for everybody,” he said after the Penn State game.
“There's a time here where a decade of defense that was as good as anybody in America, the last three years hasn't been that way. But I see improvement. I think player development is going to be very important. We lost a lot of great players from last year's team. Last year's defense, the last half of the year, was Buckeye defense."
They proved it against Penn State two weeks ago, and then set out to prove it again this past weekend against another freshman quarterback in Purdue's Danny Etling. They succeeded, as Etling was sacked six times and threw more incompletions than completions.
But it doesn't take a lot of risk to attack a freshman. Even the most conservative defensive attack will throw a few different things at a rookie. The key is to make every quarterback as uncomfortable as a freshman. That's when a defense is at its aggressive best.
Take the Michigan State Spartans, for instance. They attacked Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner relentlessly this past Saturday, and came away with a 29-6 win against the Wolverines. Gardner may only have one full season of starting at quarterback under his belt, but he's certainly not a freshman. Against the Spartans, however, he may as well have been.
When asked about that game yesterday, Meyer said that he was looking forward to watching the tape.
As an offensive coach, on more than one occasion this year, he's called a blitzing defense that the Buckeyes would be facing “a pain in the butt”. He knows that an aggressive, blitzing defense is uncomfortable to deal with because you have to plan for so many variables, and each variable has a variable. In football, when one missed assignment can cost a team a game, the fewer variables a coach has to deal with, the happier they are.
So why on earth would a coach want to make things easier on the opposition?
“Next step,” Meyer said, “we want to be a disruptive defense, and we will be a disruptive defense. That means sometimes you'll give up a play. That's okay. That's better than just giving up a bunch of plays. So I like where we're at. I like the fact we're getting better.”
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