The Ohio State defense has an ax to grind with opposing offenses, or at least they will once they get done chopping.
This week for the Buckeyes, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano pulled from his former Rutgers head-coaching days to bring out an old favorite coaching axiom of his.
He wants his defense to keep chopping wood.
It’s something that he first heard about when he was the defensive coordinator at Miami from sports psychologist Dr. Kevin Elko, but didn’t fully embrace until after a 2005 loss to Illinois.
“He said this, and it didn’t catch on there but I always remembered it,” Schiano said back in 2006 at Rutgers. “When he started working with us here, we were talking after Illinois, it just came to me. It was no great work of thoughtfulness. Right now we’re in a bad spot, we’re in the middle of the forest, it’s all dark, we can’t see. Get an ax and just start chopping away.
It worked pretty well and was adopted wholly by the Scarlet Knights program.
The wood-chopping mentality was on full display one year later when No. 15 Rutgers — at 8-0 — hosted No. 3 Louisville. The Cardinals led 25-7 in the first half, but the Knights kept chopping, and they scored the game’s final 21 points to win 28-25 in one of the great games in Big East history.
It was the biggest win in Rutgers football history, brought on by a mentality that Schiano now wants his current team to use.
The Ohio State defense has had some very rough moments this season. A big first half offensively for OSU’s opponents seems like the norm, but that is usually followed by a strong response from the Buckeyes in the second half.
While the responding performance has the coaches happy, there are still things that need to be fixed in the first half. The coaches are adamant that these are small and easy fixes, which is why Schiano simply wants his players to keep chopping every day.
“That actually showed up this week and I think it’s true,” middle linebacker Tuf Borland said. “I think it’s going to show. The last few weeks we’ve had really good days at practice and it’s about time that the results come.”
Borland feels good about the Ohio State defense because he has seen what they are capable of, and knows that if they just keep chopping, they’ll be alright.
“The positive is we gave up right around 100 yards in the second half [against Indiana],” he said. “We made some plays and were able to force some turnovers. So I think things are heading in the right direction. The talk this week in practice has been, ‘You’re chopping at the tree, it’s just a matter of time before the results start to show and the tree falls.’”
The gist of the message is mostly clear — just keep working and eventually the labor will pay off.
“There was a lot to it,” linebacker Pete Werner said of Schiano’s message. “He was saying that we need to keep chopping and chopping. He was saying there is a guy in the middle of the woods with one ax, and then he breaks apart the woods to go find his way out. So as we keep chopping, we’re going to find our way out of the woods, or something like that.”
But there have been no ax sightings to this point.
“I did hear a story about him with an ax and the football team,” Werner said. “I hear it was pretty brutal, so I don’t know if I want him using it against us.”