Fickell Unfazed by Scrutiny After 2011 Season

By Kyle Rowland on October 16, 2012 at 5:00p

The last two football seasons Luke Fickell has been a part of have brought a great deal of scrutiny, not that the Ohio State defensive coordinator is listening.

He dove headfirst into an almost unwinnable situation a year ago, a one-year head coaching deal to follow Jim Tressel. The 6-7 season didn’t go according to plan, nor did the plethora of suspensions and outside influences. Now seven games into his second stint as an Ohio State assistant, Fickell is being criticized all over again. Even pizza deliverymen have gotten into the act, and that was before Saturday’s 52-49 win at Indiana. 

Outside pressure doesn't get to Luke Fickell.

“If you can put more pressure on me than I put on myself, I don’t know how you could,” Fickell said Monday. “So the outside pressures, I don’t know. I don’t feel it. If they’re harder or stronger than what I put on myself, then maybe I should read about it.”

Fickell said giving up 14 points leads to sleepless nights, so it’s safe to say in the wake of his defense allowing a combined 87 points the past two games to Nebraska and Indiana, he is fatigued. It’s the most points Ohio State has ever allowed in back-to-back games. The Buckeyes also surrendered nearly 900 yards to the two teams.

One of the best wrestlers in Ohio high school history, Fickell still carries that mentality with him as a coach. There is never room for satisfaction, only improvement. At the end of the season, then you can reflect and be appreciative of the final product.

If things continue like they have so far, that finished product could be a masterpiece. Ohio State is undefeated and ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll in a year many considered the Buckeyes as an afterthought.

But to keep that unbeaten streak alive, it will take a better defensive effort. Like the team, Ohio State’s defense ranks in the top 10. The only problem is it’s in the Big Ten, not the country. The vaunted Silver Bullets are 10th in the league, ahead of just two teams. 

“We’re never satisfied with what we’ve got,” Fickell said. “But we can’t lose sight of the No. 1 most important – to win and get better.

“Is there a pit (in my stomach)? Yes. Does it make it hard to sleep? Yes. But what do you do? You can whine, you can fold up your tent, start to complain, or you can go back to work and find a way to get better.”

Zach Boren will be at linebacker again versus Purdue.

Boren Again

It’s not often that a four-year starter moves to a different position in the middle of his senior season. But teams also don’t usually face the prospect of having just three healthy linebackers. That’s what Ohio State dealt with last Tuesday when Boren made the switch from fullback to linebacker.

The “temporarily permanent” move, as Meyer termed it, came after the linebacker corps was beaten down against Nebraska and in the ensuing week’s practice. Comfortable with the progression of tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, Meyer approached Boren about the move, and the senior captain didn’t think twice.

A week later, more changes could be in store, namely Nathan Williams trying his hat at linebacker.

“The options are very limited right now,” Meyer said. “The guy that played very well is Noah Spence. So the thing you have to ask yourself, OK, Noah Spence and Nate Williams play the same position, so let's have a conversation about that and we are. How do you get them both on the field at the same time is the conversation. If your best 11, three four, four three, whatever, get them on the field.  We've got enough coaches to figure that out.”

The only plausible way to get Spence and Williams on the field together is shifting Williams to linebacker. It’s a position he’s played in the past. When he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2011 season-opener versus Akron, Williams was playing linebacker.

“I'm not saying that's happening,” Meyer said. “We’re just identifying who the best 11 players are and putting that puzzle together.”

It appears Curtis Grant, who began the season at middle linebacker, is not part of the equation anymore – at least this season. He has dropped to third on the depth chart behind Boren and Storm Klein.

“I think you’ll see more and more of Curtis Grant,” Meyer said. “He’s only a sophomore. Didn’t play much at all at linebacker last year. He took a little longer.

"Sometimes guys go through that learning curve, whether it be the style of defense or whether it be overall system of play. But I still think Curtis Grant’s got a fine career.”

Grant’s lack of progression has hamstrung the linebacker position and, in turn, the entire defense. He was thought to be the missing link from last season’s defense. The linebackers experienced season-long struggles in 2011 and some believed a large part was due to the play in the middle. Grant came to Ohio State as the No. 2 recruit in the nation, but he never got his feet off the ground in Year 1, playing mostly on special teams.

In the spring and fall, Grant was listed as the starter and he spoke of how much he had grown as a person and player through his turbulent first season. The coaches shared the same outlook, but after a lackluster showing against the non-conference opponents, Grant was passed over by Klein, someone that wasn’t even on the team during fall camp.

Said Fickell: “(Grant’s) been here a year and a half, and he’s still trying to figure it out.”

Rod Smith will continue to see carries.

Hot Rod

Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde have given the Buckeyes a boost in the running game. But don’t think that means Rod Smith has been forgotten. With Jordan Hall’s injured knee not healing as quickly as previously thought, Smith is making the most of his opportunity at being the backup.

Smith had 40 yards on six carries in a return to his home state of Indiana. But there were other not so good things that happened. A penalty on a punt return and – what else – a fumble.

“Keep coaching him hard,” Meyer said. “Bad penalty, but he’s going as hard as he can and we can coach through that. It’s the ones that don’t go hard.”

Smith averaged nearly seven yards per carry and also returned three kicks for 85 yards, a 28-yard average. His longest return was 33 yards.

“He’s got good confidence going on right now,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “He’s improved a lot. He’s a physical runner and has great vision and feet. He’s a very talented running back, and I think he’s in the right place right now. He’s having success on special teams and the last thing you want to do is diminish the confidence he’s developed to this point.”


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Doc's picture

I'm glad to see Rod Smith improving.  He can be a beast if he drops the fumble bug.
Fickell is in a no win situation.  he doesn't have the tools to make the defense better and the fanbase, myself included, is breathing down his neck.

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BuckGuy003's picture

If he "fumbles" the fumble problem...see what I did there?

LouGroza's picture

Rod was running with a purpose at IU. Whether that was due to it being his home state is yet to be determined. But I liked how he was running.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

But Fickell looks unmotivated and disinterested.  Right?    smh.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Ill_Buckeye's picture

"Outside pressure doesnt get to luke fickell" ...or the opposing qb in his defense

boojtastic's picture

I see what you did there...

cajunbuckeye's picture

"Use the right tool for the job". How many times have you heard that one? Sounds like Luke has been using wrenches for hammers and screw drivers for pry bars. I'm going to pump the brakes this week, as far as the defense goes. In Urban's offense I trust.... to put enough up to beat Purdoo.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

M Man's picture

Just a quick little comment about Luke Fickell.  I kind of hate doing this, because it is one of the things where I think it not my place at 11W.
I know there is disappointment in the Buckeye defense right now.  Especially since there are undeniable star talents like Simon and Shazier on that side of the ball.
But if OSU wins out the rest of the way -- an historic undefeated no-bowl season -- won't everybody regard Urban Meyer and the whole staff as heroes?  If it comes down to Michigan, and you guys manage to hold Denard to merely human numbers and win the game; wouldn't that end to a 12-0 run make everybody forget about the Indiana game?  And laugh about the 'fire Fickell' murmurings from October?

Doc's picture

MMan, you are correct to a certain extent.  The direct euphoria of being 12-0 and beating TTUN would quiet the naysayers for a few weeks.  But, once the duldroms of the off season kick in we will be back at it.  We have prided ourselves on shutdown defenses for years, we aren't going to forget that anytime soon.

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tennbuckeye19's picture

Perhaps. But you know us Buckeye fans. I could see the season remembered as 'going undefeated despite the play of the defense'. 

buckeye76BHop's picture

I just hope going undefeated comes true...I'm kinda leaning towards Alex's tweet after Saturdays game.  If OSU's offense sputters one more time like Saturday, I'd say you can kiss that undefeated season goodbye.  Purdue, PSU, tTUN are teams that can hurt OSU's defense (tTUN-when they don't take a stupid pill and make Denard be a pro-style QB, which results in this).  I love that music accompaniment in the Denard/tTUN's great isn't it;-)

"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 

NW Buckeye's picture

 M Man - Did you guys go through this same thing with RR and his DC's?  Or was all the animosity directed at RR?  I have a few M fans as friends, and the only thing they find more amusing than our defensive struggles right now is how quickly some of the fan base is turning on Fickle.  They say things that I can't quote on here for fear of violating the commenting policy!!!!

M Man's picture

There was enough animosity to cover everybody, from Rich Rodriguez, to his staff, to the Athletic Department, to the newspapers, to the ball-boys and the blogs. 
It was like picking out a single pie in a pie fight.
Honestly, I don't find the two situations comparable.  And that's a very good thing for you, I assure you.
One thing we learned in 2011 is that Mike Martin was a force in the middle of a functioning Michigan defense.  And I think that Martin, the victim of repeated chop-blocks in 2010, played most of the year wounded.  I think about Martin while watching John Simon.  My guess is that the guy is playing hurt.  But you guys would know more about that than I would.

unknownmusketeer's picture

I honestly think Simon, Williams, Barnett, Howard, Roby, Shazier, Bennett, and Hankins (in decreasing order of injury extent) are all playing hurt this year.  I don't know how many "stingers" Howard has suffered, Simon probably only has one arm attached at this point, and Sabino would be playing if the whole walking thing was possible.
If anything, the next men need to step up.  Noah Spence has already done this.  WHO ELSE WANTS IT THAT BAD?  As Urban would say, "Go make a play."

osu07asu10's picture

Keep on keepin on Coach Fickell. Dont listen to the noise, just put your head down pin those ears back and go get it 

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D. Anthony's picture

M Man... don't you see the similarities with our D this year and yours prior to Mattison? He came in to mich with pretty much the same talent and has almost single handedly turned it around. We would love to go undefeated this year but we all care a little bit more about how we are setting up for the next few years when we hope to be playing for a Championship. Undefeated this year means little if we come back with a bad D again next year and it costs us when it really counts.

D. Anthony

M Man's picture

I try not to think about Greg Robinson at all until somebody reminds me.  And then the flashbacks start, and the night-sweats, and all of the vomiting and the medications and the restraints...

fear_the_nut70's picture

D, this is almost the exact point I made a couple of threads ago.  While lack of talent at certain positons is at play here, a good coach on the fundamentals and schemes can make a huge difference.  What I think concerns many is that we have gotten worse collectively from a year ago, and it really isn't because of attrition.

nickma71's picture

And there isn't much in the piepline left for LB in 2013 or 2014. Many of the offers are signed elsewhere, including a 4 star (scout) going to Michigan.

thatlillefty's picture

What's up with LB, Mike Mitchell from Texas? Sounded really hot on tOSU in the summer but haven't heard much since.

fear_the_nut70's picture

What will really stick in our craw is if Anzalone goes to ND and dominates.  I know it isn't about one kid, but LB was probably the last position we could afford to lose a kid over such a silly reason.

Bucksfan's picture

If I read that name one more time I'm going to shoot my computer.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Anzalone has no relavance to THIS SEASON'S defense that is a moot point.  I think the better question qould be "Why did (insert name of transferred player here) have to transfer and not play Mike for us this year?!?"  Names like Dorian Bell and Jordan Whiting come to mind for me...Dorian Bell Specifically...JESUS!

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i hear you mman but i think we wont forget and neither will urbz... its clear to me the defense is starting to p*ss him off a lot... its not just fickell, coombs has a ton of talent in the secondary and they are gettin torched far too often the only guy on the defense that i think is doing well is vrabs (debateable)... i know i dont know football as well as these men, but i can read body language. i can tell you if this performance keeps up urbz is going to reach into the limitless pocket book and bring in somebody else...

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Doc's picture

Nailed it!

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Phoenix824's picture

Until we get a middle linebacker who can be the quarterback of the defense they will continue to struggle.    

LouGroza's picture

Nathan Williams can handle linebacking duties. He's got the quickness and has a non-stop motor. Like Shazier he has to play under control. Playing under control, assignment football is missing. That is one thing I am regularly yelling at my TV without one player ever paying any attention.

johnblairgobucks's picture

the OSU Silver Bullets pre 2012- if one guy can't bring you down, the next guy to the pile sure will.
The OSU Pop Gun Corks of 2012- if one guy misses the tackle, the next guy will too.

bwh's picture

still amazed how we go from stuffing michigan state and then playing some very strong D against nebraska, to letting indiana run up the score. i know we played into MSU's strengths, and nebraska scored a lot, but there was some TREMENDOUS progress versus the first four games.
now it seems like a regression... or at the very least that we simply cannot handle the short pass.
either way, ya gotta love fickell's attitude. a true workman and grinder. no excuses, no surrender, just hard work.
hate him if you want, but i love him for that and many, many other reasons.

Toilrt Paper's picture

Haters must hate someone even when undefeated.

buckeye76BHop's picture

I watched Fickell on Bucknuts yesterday and he genuinely seems like they'll get these problems fixed (I think).  I also think that the defensive problems are ALL the coaches responsibilities (not just Fickell...I just find it a shame that he isn't doing a better job at Def. Coor at this point).  He equates much of what's been happening to what everyone's already been saying about injuries and the myriad of other things.  All I know is I'm fine with us being an Oregon pre 2012 and 2012 WVU with no defense if we go undefeated (and please ohhhh please for the love of Woody Hayes get it fixed by next year...I'm not sure I can handle us being that style of team two years in a row.  I know we won't win a NC, possibly a B1G title, but not a NC).  

"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 

Poison nuts's picture

@Lougrouza I agree about Nate Williams at LB. So long as he's healthy - he's very capable of being the QB on D.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

zbd's picture

Where is Bri'onte Dunn? And can we keep the best Ohio linebackers in Ohio and not Alabama and Texas?  (Trey DePriest, Jordan Hicks)

Buckeyeholicwompa's picture

After reading a lot of the opinions as to why the D gave up so many yards/points against IND the last few days.....I have to think its not just coaching, out of place, injuries, schemes etc. but if you think about it, we were playing INDIANA. When is the last time Indiana ever beat us?? I think this team has a horrible mentality and discipline when it comes to playing the competition we face. It was obvious in our non-conference games and then things revved up for Neb. and Mich. St. but went backwards last Saturday. Until we get the discipline and menality to stomp our opponents throats until they suffocate or in other words until the final whistle is blown then expect an up and down performance from our D.
In a players mind...."Oh its Indiana, we don't need to play all that great to beat em'"

cjkanski's picture

That's exactly what I was thinking as I watched the game. The defense at times looked like they were playing at 3/4 speed. The last 6 min. of the 4th quarter some of them looked like they were completely checked out.

"I could *BLEEP* forever. *BLEEP until I drop" - The Count