COLUMBUS, Ohio –For the first time in six years, Ohio State is returning the same defensive system for a second year in a row with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said throughout the Buckeyes’ 15 spring practices that he has been impressed with the flashes from the defense, adding that they have been getting their hands on a lot more balls in practice.
With year two of the Knowles era, there were sure to be improvements in the secondary from the continuity, comfortability, and stability present on the defensive side of the ball that allows the players to have more confidence and speed in the scheme.
The improvements on defense were certainly on display Saturday in the spring game as the defense played fast, was active, and consistently broke up potential explosive offensive plays.
The stability in the defense yielded great benefits for junior cornerback Denzel Burke. If Ohio State gets the Burke that it saw on Saturday, in the fall, it has something.
“I think we’ve made great strides in the secondary, I’ve been very impressed with our corners,” Day said before the spring game. I think Denzel [Burke] is playing his best football right now, I’ve been impressed with his off-season and his approach everyday, he’s gotten his hands on a lot of balls.”
In the spring game, Burke had two drive-ending pass break ups on third down on impressive deep throws from quarterback Kyle McCord to Carnell Tate and Jayden Ballard.
Burke said following the game that with year two of the system, they are more comfortable with what Knowles is going to call, the trust is there, and everyone is excited.
The defense won the day with a 40-31 score, holding the offense to only three touchdowns, not counting Archie Griffin’s play that resulted in a touchdown. The defense dominated the first half with only one rushing touchdown by Chip Trayanum and no passing touchdowns until the third quarter.
A number of other Buckeyes were involved defensively on Saturday. Sophomore linebacker C.J. Hicks had two near-interceptions, Jermaine Mathews recorded a pass break up, Sonny Styles also had a pass break up, and walk-on Cameron Kittle recorded a pass break up. Ryan Turner also posted solid coverage and made a couple stops along with Kye Stokes was also active in the secondary.
While the success on the defensive side of the ball in the spring could be attributed to the many question marks on the offensive side, there’s no denying the fact that the players are feeling the changes and the coaches are seeing differences.
“Everything’s faster, they’re moving faster, they’re seeing it and being year two in the system and adding Davison [Igbinosun] in there, you’re starting to see the secondary move faster, make more plays, and be more decisive,” Day said following the spring game.
The Ohio State secondary strives to be BIA, or Best in America, and it certainly is trending in the right direction, steps at a time.
“I feel like we’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” Burke said. “We have a lot to prove to the world and I’m really excited for what we have in store this season. We just have to stay in the moment, keep going, getting 1 percent better each day.”
Photo via Ohio State Football Twitter.