Getting Defensive

By Kyle Rowland on September 18, 2012 at 10:00a

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. 

The longest run by an opponent in Ohio Stadium history.

It was all there for 105,232 in Ohio Stadium to see on Saturday during Ohio State’s 35-28 victory over California. 

Braxton Miller’s game-winning 72-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Devin Smith provided the Scarlet and Gray-clad fans with unbridled enthusiasm. Ohio State’s 11 penalties – five personal fouls – for 101 yards did not make head coach Urban Meyer happy. But the 512 yards surrendered by the defense, the most against the Buckeyes in any game in seven seasons and most at home since 1999, was the knockout punch.

The sky is not falling and there is no reason for panic in Columbus. Still, despite a 3-0 record, Ohio State is a flawed team. During the unmemorable 2011 season, Ohio State’s defense was not an Ohio State defense, as Meyer so eloquently puts it. And the stats back him up. The Buckeyes finished in the top five in total defense four times during Jim Tressel’s 10 years as head coach, including first in 2007.

They ranked 19th a season ago, but the mistakes were glaring. Missed tackles, big plays, suspect play at linebacker, etc. All of those things made an appearance against Cal.

“That's not acceptable,” Meyer said. “That is the most alarming thing. I've watched (Ohio State) for a long time, and I can't remember a defense that's given up this many (big plays). We've got to stop or we'll lose the game.”

It’s a statement that no doubt could prove prophetic, because of Ohio State’s seven loses in 2011, more than half can in some way be attributed to defensive breakdowns.  On Saturday, one look at the box score revealed all the gory details.

Cal’s third-string running back, Brendan Bigelow, cruised to 160 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries. His 81-yard touchdown run was the longest rush by an opponent in Ohio Stadium history. The Bears had six plays that gained 25 or more yards and four of 30 or more.

“It was bad,” Meyer said. “Forty percent of their yardage at the end of the day, half of it was on six plays. Two of them the guy was down. I mean, put him on the ground instead of strip the ball. That goes down to fundamentals, and how do you improve that? You work really hard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

That means another dreaded Tuesday practice. It’s bad regardless of the previous week’s result, but when you add in a poor Saturday performance, Bloody Tuesday becomes that much worse.

It was "Sleepless in Powell" for Luke Fickell.

After a close win over Central Florida a week ago, a game in which Ohio State’s lack of pressure on the quarterback stuck out, the following Tuesday’s practice was “awful,” according to Meyer. The players come to expect the horrible conditioning drills and hard hitting, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

“You get what you emphasize,” Meyer said. “I know we tackled more than anybody, but obviously it's not getting the job done, so we have to tackle more. Instead of one day a week, we'll probably have to go two now. It's all about fundamentals technique.

“We make a huge emphasis on stripping the ball. If you watch one of those tackles, it looked like the guy was going after the ball instead of wrapping him up. So we've addressed that and we'll have more conversations about that.”

To say the Buckeyes didn’t meet expectations because they were favored by more than two touchdowns would be incorrect. When a reporter brought up the subject, Meyer did not take kindly to his line of questioning. Sure, Ohio State has areas that need corrected and apparent weaknesses were highlighted. But talking down the opponent is not in Meyer’s interests.

“They've got some very good players,” he said of Cal. “Probably as good of players as we've got. Be careful. Everybody has opinions, but that's not an educated opinion because some bookie said we should beat a team because they lost some game. That's not what college football is.

“There are a lot of teams that you watch every Saturday night, and boy, what's wrong with them? It's college football. There are some scholarship athletes on the other side that play very well at times and get coached very well at times.”

The Bears executed a game plan almost flawlessly, which kept them in the game and contributed to a near upset. But the Buckeyes’ hamstrung themselves in many facets on defense. Already this season, Ohio State’s opponents have reeled off gains of 20 or more yards 13 times.

Against Cal, the Buckeyes were able to pressure the quarterback, sacking Zach Maynard six times after recording three combined in the first two games.

The boost in production came due to scheme changes – the Buckeyes rang up a handful of blitzes – and good, old-fashioned motivation. For two weeks, they heard from fans and coaches about diminished skills. The defensive line was held aloft all spring and summer, being paraded around as one of the nation’s best units. After finally proving itself, defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins wore a sense of relief on his face. 

“It’s good,” said Hankins, who was Ohio State’s defensive player of the game for the second straight week. “There was definitely a focus. (Defensive line) coach (Mike Vrabel) challenged us to hit the quarterback, and I feel like we did that pretty well.

“In practice we just focused on getting off the ball, and I feel like with Coach Vrabel staying on us, I feel like we got off the ball.”

Johnathan Hankins finished with a career-high 10 tackles.

While the front four delivered for the most part – Cal had 224 rushing yards – the seven remaining pieces to the defense had its struggles, especially the linebackers and safeties. Ryan Shazier finished with 13 tackles and a sack, but Curtis Grant and Storm Klein were overmatched.

The defense eventually went to the nickel. Christian Bryant secured the game-clinching interception, but he and fellow safety CJ Barnett had difficulties of their own. On Bigelow’s second touchdown Bryant missed a tackle that would have prevented the score.

“Bad tackling,” Meyer said. “That’s all I know is bad tackling. We’ve got to get that figured out. It’s time to play Ohio State defense and that wasn’t Ohio State defense.

“Five hundred twelve yards. That’s terrible.”

Said Bryant: “People take for granted somebody already making the play. Everybody’s not flying to the ball. Like Coach Meyer said, we’re going to work on tackling all week.”

How satisfied was co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell with the effort? Enough to toss and turn in bed. It was more nightmare than good night’s sleep.

“Believe me, I laid awake Saturday night watching that thing while everybody else in the house slept,” Fickell said. “I couldn’t pinpoint one exact thing.”

Fickell did come to one conclusion: it wasn’t a lack of effort. The Buckeyes harassed Maynard and the rest of the Cal offense all game. They were in position to make plays, but the missed tackles played a big part in the Bears’ 512 yards and 28 points.

“Are we fundamentally sound in what we’re doing? No,” Fickell said. “When a guy slips out the back side for 81 yards, there’s nothing fundamentally sound about it. Did three guys have him? Yeah, but we’ve got to make sure we continue to stress the things that we’re supposed to do on those plays.

“The two things that I see is we’ve got to make the ball go east and west, and then we’ve got to have leverage on the football.”

Rest assured, the Buckeye scout team will double as tackling dummies this week.


Comments Show All Comments

RBuck's picture

Meyer needs to bring Spielman in to give a crash course on tackling.
"Run through them, not at them. Wrap 'em up."

Long live the southend.

Pam's picture

"See ball, get ball"  -C. Spielman

Right Again's picture

I'd  be happier with "See man with ball, wrap up and tackle man with ball"

AGL's picture

actually think D is pretty loaded.   We have seen stints,  just need consistency.


timdogdad's picture

right, like i said yeserday. this is the same roster that basically shut down wisky last year(except the ending)  except for sweat, so the same results can happen.  and that game wasn't just loading up against the run.  they had the current  seahawks starter last year as qb.   the coaches should use that as a motivator.  

chitown buckeye's picture

"Bring your feet! Feet are your friends!"- C Spielman

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Pam's picture

"Shake and Bake" -Rickey Bobby

German Buckeye's picture

Why so many forget Little Animal?  He's tearing it up in the NFL since arriving...I rank him up there will Spielman - if only we had these two guys reincarnate now.  I think our LB's are our weakest link on D... 
Spiels - College: All-American 86,87; Lombardi 87; College Football HOF
Pro career: (88-99) 3x All Pro; 4x Pro Bowl; 1,181 career tackles, 10.5 sacks, 6 INT
Laurinaitis - College: All-American 06,07,08; Nagurski 06; Butkus 07, Lambert 07,08; Lott 08
PRO (3 yrs and counting) - NFL all rookie 09, 376 tackles, 8 sacks, 5 INT
He stacks up very well to Chris and projects to have better stats in the pro's. 

William's picture

When it's all said and done, Laurinaitis will probably have had the best pro-career of any OSU linebacker. 

RBuck's picture

Uhh, maybe because Spiels talks about tackling and Laurinaitis doesn't?

Long live the southend.

Bolt's picture

I certainly haven't forgotten about him. Hawk was the best I've seen at tOSU IMO (I didn't get to watch Spiels at OSU as I was in diapers). Hawk was just everywhere all the time and made some of the most ridiculous plays...which certainly isn't to say James didn't. I'd just take Hawk personally. I guess it's not exactly apples to apples since Hawk played WILL and James played MIKE.
Somehow I forgot to mention Katzenmoyer in there.

German Buckeye's picture

Based on these time lines - we are overdue for some stud LB's:
Randy Gradishar/Tom Cousineau/Marcus Marek - 70's
Pepper Johnson/Chris Spielman/Steve Tovar - 80's
Andy Katzenmoyer/Na'il Diggs/Matt Wilhelm - 90's
AJ Hawk/James Laurinaitis - 00's
2010 to now - hmmm - not sure if who we have on the roster stacks up to this list.

ziplock007's picture

Fans, stop fooling yourselves.  The defense is bad. 
You either know how to tackle or you don't.  Two good days of practice will not fix its woes.

buck-I.8's picture

Spoken like a true expert ... ... ... ...

hodge's picture

I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.

BrewstersMillions's picture

At this stage in the game, these players know how to do certain things-tackling is one of them. You don't get to this level without knowing how...OSU needs to simply stress the fundamentals in practice and gameplans. Missed tackles are coacheable moments.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Thank you Third Eye Blind. I needed to hear that.

whobdis's picture

I agree that it's difficult to correct tackling issues in a short time period..but some of it is due to bad angles. This can be corrected.
Nickey used to take some of the worst angles I've ever seen from a college athlete. But he figured it out..may still be playing on Sundays.

tennbuckeye19's picture

FWIW: Nickey was a career special teams-only player for the Tennessee Titans. He was released before last season, but had a good little run 7 or 8 year run in Nashville.

FROMTHE18's picture

Feel like the top image of Sabino is exactly how he is usually depicted, chasing offensive players down the field.

bassplayer7770's picture

The first thing that comes to mind is, "RUN FASTER!!!"  Still, Bigelow should have been tackled close to the LOS, so we should have never seen that play unfold.
EDIT:  Just rewatched the play, and good lord.  Nate Williams missed him behind the LOS, and Orhian Johnson should have tackled him for a 4-yard gain.  When Orhian went down, he didn't even get up right away as he watched Bigelow round the corner.  Then Shazier decided to lunge at him and whiff again.  Ugh...

E2Brutus's picture

Well, Ziplock said so so I guess thats the way it is.
In football, as in life, you either know how to do something or you don't. There is no in between and there is no learning and growth.
Let's all just give up... oh wait I don't know how? I guess I'll never learn.

Boxley's picture

I was thinking that maybe Ziplock should practice a little Liplock first.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

pjtobin's picture

Learning a new d is one thing. But not tackling when it counts? I think Bryant was correct in everyone not flying to the ball. Trying to strip it and expecting a teammate to tackle. It will be fixed. Three games ago we didn't have a receiver to throw to. Now we a few. So I'm optimistic. 
On another note... Ziplock ... Why so negative? Did you ever play? Did you ever miss a tackle? Did a new coach come in and run new plays? Did you have to learn in front of 105,000 fans? I didn't think so. I am assuming that you never played. After reading your comment that is what came to my mind. This d is not bad. It is uneducated  and  growing. it takes time. I agree that a few practices won't "fix" anything. Making mistakes only takes one time to not do it again. I don't expect perfection. I was rather pumped up heart racing at the mistakes they were making. It's like watching my own kids doing things they know they shouldn't do. And I know that only a butt chewing brings them back to what the know. You may think that these four and five star young men are bad. That is your opinion. My opinion  is your wrong. Are you even a buckeye fan? Or just a troll? The way you said fans? Like you were not. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

The defensive rotation includes as many frosh/soph as it does veterans.
On top of that, Nathan Williams is just coming back from injury. Christian Bryant is, effectively, like a sophomore still. 
In the two years prior to 2002, I remember that vaunted defense having some horrible games. In the 2000 game against Minnesota, they seemingly never once got off the field on 3rd down. They have up 38 pts to Michigan.
The following year, they were a bit better, but let Jack freakin' Mills carve them up as PSU went for over 500 yds in a disgusting comeback; it was forgiveable that they gave up 34 pts to a good ILL team, but then they gave up 28 pts in the 1H to a mediocre South Carolina offense.
Not just Donnie Nickey, but even Mike Doss, had some rough games in 2000 and 2001.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

What Christian Bryant said is probably most telling about why the defense struggled on Saturday. 

Class of 2010.

bassplayer7770's picture

And my response would be to never stop until you hear the whistle blow.  Coach Meyer wants to see them going "two steps beyond."

jedkat's picture

I don't know if it was said during our game, or the MSU game but one commentor said "Don't stop until you hear the whistle's echo".
I like this. Extra 2 indeed.

"Can we please stop the message board fighting? I really can't stand the message board fighting..."

"No. You're an idiot, and your posts are terrible."

LouGroza's picture

Well let's see. The week before we said there was no pass rush. We could NOT get to the QB. SIX sacks against Cal. Hhmm. I am willing to bet we see a difference in the tackling miscues  this week against UAB just as the sack problem was addressed vs. Cal. Stay calm it is being worked on. Very young team with many true frosh playing. If every game was won 50-0 it would get a little boring.....maybe.

theDuke's picture

i think i'm kinda ready for the Perry & Perkins Experiment at LB... just sayin.


bedheadjc's picture

^^^^^^^^ Yep, get them time, see what happens.

johnblairgobucks's picture

Ready to watch OSU linebackers who control "their space"  Linebackers we have playing now, know how to get blocked in "their space" .  Shazier at least has the speed to get back in the play and tackle 8 yards downfield, or run across the field and get into a play, when play goes away from his side.
Ready to see some freshman in there to see what they got. 
I'm ready for that.

lippertini's picture

Would love to watch this, but........wonder how much coverage they'd absolutely blow, though.  You can argue that 2014 recruiting will be heavily dependent on having a decent season this year (9-10 wins), and if they're so lost schematically that we lose 5 or 6, then the extra LB experience would not be worth it long term compared to the loss of elite talent we'd see in 2014 recruiting.  Also, they both may need to add some more muscle before being able to shed blocks from the big boys on Mich St., Nebraska and Michigan.

johnblairgobucks's picture

maybe, but shedding blocks doesn't come to mind, when I think of our current linebacker play..... blown coverage, on the other hand....well.

lippertini's picture

Agreed, so now imagine if it got worse.  D=

cplunk's picture

I think this defense is not good RIGHT NOW. Where they will be later in the year is an open question. They're clearly a work in progress. If they don't progress, then it'll be fair to say they are a bad defense.
Right now there are clearly some holes. They couldn't get pressure with three so they adjusted and brought more blitzes; the result was vulnerability to screens (particularly in the middle of the field). They took bad angles all over the field, and better tackling would have made this a much bigger win. Short routes are also consistently open for the other team- this seems to me to be more scheme related than player, but the abilities of the players have a lot to do with the selection of a particular scheme.
So for all the people above saying its a bad defense, well they MIGHT be right. But so might the people saying we're looking at an incomplete work in progress. 
Personally I think they're in trouble defensively. I think the book on how to beat this defense is  a simple book- short drops, short passes, frequent screens, get to the edge and hope for a missed tackle. The book won't help a UAB or an Indiana, but it'll be more than enough for a good team to beat the Bucks. Fortunately for us, the B1G stinks enough this year that it might not matter.

LadyBuck's picture

Sometimes I feel like we have a fan base filled with Chicken Littles. Thanks for putting everything into perspective. 

buckeye76BHop's picture

The sky is not falling and there is no reason for panic in Columbus. Still, despite a 3-0 record, Ohio State is a flawed team. During the unmemorable 2011 season, Ohio State’s defense was not an Ohio State defense, as Meyer so eloquently puts it.

If OSU struggles against UAB on defense...the sky won't be falling but I can assure you that Meyer will re-evaluate Fickel as head Def. Coordinator.  Before I get burnt to a crisp here by flaming comments from defensive hell...Fickel wasn't the one calling the defenses when Heacock was there.  Heacock called them and Fick sent them in...that's a fact!  IMO Fick needs to learn...yes...but Urban Meyer isn't as patient as JT would be with this obvious lack of discipline.  He better get this figured out and soon.  I love the new offense and Brax is a beast and so is Simon on defense (as I love Fickel and don't won't him fired BTW).  You win NCs with defense....that must improve now so OSU's going into next year with a head of steam.  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987