OSU Defense Remains Question Mark
By Patrick Murphy
What once was a strength has become a weakness.
The Buckeyes have historically been one of the nation’s best defenses, but this year the unit has consistently been a borderline mess.
OSU is giving up 355.8 yards per game, is ranked 98th in the country in passing yards allowed per game, and has given up over 20 points per game while playing only three teams in the top 50 in scoring.
Last week, Ohio State allowed 603 yards and 41 points to Michigan – both season highs. The Buckeyes gave up 451 passing yards and 152 rushing to a team that twicethis year rushed for negative yardage.
After that performance, the focus is again on OSU’s weakness.
“Pass defense surfaced again and lack of contact on the quarterback,” OSU Head Coach Urban Meyer said. “We just had some guys running open.”
Photo by Dan Harker
“We gave up too many yards.”
The Wolverines opened the playbook and gained big chunks of yards consistently.
“Yeah, we won't win the [Big Ten title game]. We won't win that game this time,” Meyer said when asked if they could defeat Michigan State this week with a similar defensive performance.
“That's just very simple. We have to play much better.”
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was defensive when asked what went wrong with his defense in Ann Arbor.
Photo by Dan Harker
“Did we win? Because I’ve been up there quite a few times in my, I don’t know, my 18-year career here and have not had to come away with a win,” he said.
He understands the difficulty of the rivalry, but there might be a tougher challenge on the horizon.
This week the Buckeyes face the nation’s top defense that will make it more difficult to move the ball and score points.
To win that game will require a better defensive effort.
“Every play, every time we go out to practice, we’ve got to get better,” he said. “That’s an attitude that we’ve started from the beginning, whether we’ve been up or we’ve been down.”
He also understands that at this point in the season, this team is who they are and they can’t change their strategy.
“We can’t step back and ask our kids to change their demeanor and not be aggressive and not get after the quarterback just because of one situation,” Fickell said.
All season teams have turned Ohio State’s aggression against them, using screens to hit the Buckeyes for big plays. It didn’t take Michigan long to attack this defense with the screen, going for 84 yards on their third offensive snap.
Fickell took responsibility.
“I think maybe if I’d kick myself in the game a little bit, on the third play, their guy went for 90 on a quick screen and we were blitzing,” he said.
“We didn’t execute, we didn’t do a great job, we didn’t get off blocks, guys didn’t react to the ball.”
Football is a copycat sport and there is no doubt that the Spartans took note and will look to take advantage.
“It all comes down to having awareness,” Fickell said.
“That’s going to be a tough play for them to complete, but if they do it’s going to be tough for us to stop as well.”
While he sees the need for improvement, Fickell also understands how this team has been successful all year. Just as Ohio State has not faced a defense like Michigan State’s, the Spartans haven’t seen an offense like the Buckeyes.
“What it comes down to ultimately is you’ve got to outplay the other team’s defense,” he said, but he doesn’t believe it will be as high scoring as the previous game.
“That means if they allow two points then you’ve got to allow none, and if they allow three, whatever it is.”
In the end, it is about winning for OSU, and Fickell would like to see his defense live up to expectations.
"You have a standard and that’s what’s been set around here and I think that’s the beauty of it,” he said.
“You’re never satisfied with what you’ve got.”