When in Doubt, Apply Pressure

By Kyle Rowland on November 1, 2012 at 10:00a

As the calendar flips to November and the SEC plays under sunny skies and mild temperatures, the Big Ten and other schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line hunker down for football weather. 

The Silver Bullets are locked and loaded.

The changing colors of leaves, 40 and 50 degree Saturdays and hard hitting are rites of autumn. It is during the stretch run that the season begins to take a toll on teams. But as 9-0 Ohio State enters its final three games of 2012, the Buckeyes are getting stronger.

Braxton Miller and the offense have garnered most of the headlines since August, but the Silver Bullets have regained their luster since a fourth-quarter meltdown at Indiana. 

On that Saturday night in Bloomington, Buckeye fans were horrified at what they saw: 49 points – 22 in the fourth quarter alone – 481 yards given up and two touchdowns of more than 50 yards. Indiana’s 49 points were the most scored by an Ohio State opponent that didn’t win the game. 

Cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby called the defense’s performance “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.”

For nearly its entire existence, the Ohio State football program has revolved around its defense. From Ike Kelley to Jack Tatum all the way up to James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, defense has ruled the day in Columbus.

Woody Hayes’ smashmouth three yards and a cloud of dust offense may have been his stamp on the university and Tresselball became common vernacular around Columbus, but look at the hallmark of every great Ohio State team. It starts and ends with defense.

When Urban Meyer was hired in November, he brought with him a Plan to Win. That Plan was used to win big at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, and it’s already contributed to a 9-0 start at Ohio State.

No. 1 on the list: play great defense.

The past two weeks, the Buckeyes have gotten back to that defining trait. The defense limited Purdue to 13 points and 347 total yards. Six of those points and 83 yards came on the game’s first play. For the final 59 minutes, including overtime, Ohio State held Purdue to nearly 250 yards of offense.

Penn State was only able to muster 16 points this past Saturday and didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter. A rushing attack that was averaging well north of 100 yards per game was limited to just 32. In fact, the Ohio State defense has only given up 93 rushing yards per game in its past three outings.

A student of the game, Boren has pored over the playbook.

“I feel like we’re definitely on the right path,” Roby said. “We have things to fix. No one is perfect. Everyone is getting scored on; no one’s having shutouts every week. I feel like we’re definitely one of the best defenses, and we’re going to get better.”

Following the game, multiple Penn State offensive players spoke about the talent level of Ohio State’s front seven. Ryan Shazier, John Simon, Nathan Williams and Johnathan Hankins spent as much time in the backfield as Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin and running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak.

“We're much better tackling and leveraging the ball,” Meyer said. “We blitzed more. We had more pressures. We played more man coverage and blitzed more than we did all year. So that's telling us something – that we need to do more of that.”

The change in schemes has been the result of reliable cover cornerbacks and the emergence of fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren.

“I think there’s been a good mix of game planning and adding new things and then having some carryover,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. “The last few weeks we’ve had some carryover, which has allowed our guys to play fast and recognize things and go play football.”

Early in the season, Meyer lamented the Buckeyes’ porous technique when it came to tackling and leveraging the football. He also wasn’t keen on their effort. Four to six seconds of relentless effort has been a popular Meyerism since he stepped foot on campus.

“I have great respect for Silver Bullet defense, even when I was far away because I've always watched Ohio State,” Meyer said. “Fundamentally, I feel much better about where we’re at defensively. Our coaches have done a really good job taking 10 minutes, sometimes 15 minutes a day just working on fundamentals. You can see the improvements on the field.”

Boren’s move to defense has coincided with the defensive surge. Senior captain Etienne Sabino was having his best season to date prior to a broken fibula he suffered early in the first half against Nebraska.

In his absence, the Cornhuskers gashed Ohio State for 437 total yards, 223 rushing yards and 38 points. Boren has proven to be a capable run-stopper, and as he did in the offensive huddle, Boren has provided sound leadership on defense.

“He’s a great leader, so having him on the defense has definitely been a plus,” Roby said. “We know he’s not going to mess up and not go hard. We know he’s going to give his all.

He might be tired, but Roby wants to play every Saturday.

“Middle linebacker has to be a big leader for the defense, and he’s a leader naturally.  He’s making sure he’s calling out all the plays, calling out checks. He’s staying after practice and learning the defense in and out. He really wants to learn everything.”

The situation presented to Boren is similar to that of Vrabel. During a 14-year career at linebacker in the NFL, Vrabel was used as a short-yardage tight end with New England, catching 10 passes, all of which were touchdowns.

But Vrabel was quick to point out what Boren is doing is much more difficult than a linebacker lining up as a tight end.

“I ran two routes and I didn't block,” Vrabel said.

During his high school career, Boren played linebacker at Pickerington, earning state defensive player of the year honors. He was moved to fullback at Ohio State his freshman season and has started in the offensive backfield ever since. But when the defense asked for a helping hand, Boren didn’t hesitate. In three starts, he has 20 tackles.

“I would say the first two games, there were times where I was just kind of running around not really knowing what I was doing all the time,” Boren said. “Against Penn State, I was finally a lot more confident in what I was doing and stuff started slowing down for me. Each week the growth is there a lot more than in the past weeks.”

Teammates and coaches have lauded the effort and desire from Boren. With a fourth game plus the bye week looming, Boren should be at full capacity with the playbook and defensive terminology. But that is the target date for Sabino’s return.

Regardless, all but one member of the team is looking forward to the coming week without a game. On Monday, Meyer said Ohio State’s training staff told him the team is at its healthiest point all season. Talk to the players, however, and they sing another tune.

“I think everybody is pretty beat up,” safety CJ Barnett said. “That’s why you have 100 people on the team. When guys go down, you’ve got to have people to replace them.”

Said Hankins: “It’s just a grind.”

After 10 consecutive game weeks and constant football since the start of fall camp, you’d think a light week on the agenda would be a welcome sight.

“It’s kind of late,” Roby said. “Some other teams are getting more opportunities than we are. We just want to take every game and use it as fuel to keep wining and stay undefeated. Us having a game off after having so much momentum is kind of a bad thing.”

But if Ohio State wins the two games after the bye – Wisconsin and Michigan – and finishes 12-0 on the season, no one can discount perfection.


Comments Show All Comments

btalbert25's picture

I understand what Roby is saying, but top to bottom, I have to think the team is welcoming a week off to get some rest and recharge the batteries heading into a tough final 2 games.  I don't really think the bye week will break momentum, they could come out looking better than they have all year after getting that week off.

buckeyepastor's picture

Agree.  OSU has seemed to tune their intensity to the talent level of the opponent.  They've come out pretty strong against MSU, NEB, and PSU.  I expect that Madison will not find them looking rusty, but rested.   What's more, regardless of their record, Wisconsin's style of play is always one of the more physical challenges in the country to go against.   I think you want your team as fresh and healthy as possible going into Camp Randall.  And then of course against that team up North.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

AltaBuck's picture

Boren, Sabino and Shazier at LB versus Wisky and TSUN.  Me likes.  Doubt they will play much nickel versus Wisky. Hopefully Sabino is 100%.

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partisan's picture

I was thinking the same thing.  It's going to be nice to be able to field 3 LBs I feel confident that can actually make plays.

kevinfrenchfry's picture

good point altabuck, still cant beleive the reality of calling boren a god lb but he is what he is, a good lb.  and with stave out for the rest of the season this team will HAVE to be run heavy on a year montee hasnt been his best, still should be a fun game though

input4u's picture

The college football bye week.  Leaves an empty weekend for most...  i'm sure we will hear many stories on the Pros and cons of the bye week after we dismantle the Fightin Illini...

jthiel09's picture

I think the BYE week is much more beneficial later in the season rather than early. Usually teams aren't full of injuries at the beginning of the season where as towards the last month teams usually have a bunch of injuries. It looks like the BYE week could benefit us to rest guys and get them healthy for the final push.
Although my statement about not being injury prone early in the year doesn't hold true for Maryland who is currently using a LB to play QB becuase they had what two or three QB's go down preseason / first game and just lost another ....... what a fun position they are in.


btalbert25's picture

Braxton says he's looking forward to the week off, that to me is more important than any opinion anyone else has about the bye.  That's one guy we need fresh and ready for those last 2 games.

buckeyepastor's picture

I'm hoping for a big first quarter for once from our offense.  If we can get up by 3 or 4 TDs by the intermission, we can then allow Guiton to get some reps in the second half.   I know that wouldn't be the best thing for his Heisman run, but I think it would be prudent for us going into the final two games.  To me, the perfect way to use the Illini as a tune-up for making it to 12-0 is to get Braxton 12-15 carries and 15-20 throws in the first two and a half or three quarters, and then let him rest on the sidelines with OSU up by 30 or more and have Guiton come in and get some reps so that he's that much more ready in the final weeks as well.   Not wanting to sound pessimistic, but colder temperatures paired with games against two of our most physical conference opponents is a forecast that has me anticipating Miller could be needing to come out for a series or two in the final two weeks.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

chitown buckeye's picture

I think those were the tyes of games we were hoping for against Indiana and Purdue as well. As you said hopefully we put away an inferior opponent early and the starters can get some rest.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

baddogmaine's picture

I completely agree. Braxton isn't getting the Heisman this year, but the team can go 12-0. That is much more likely if Brax especially does not get any more banged up than he needs to be, and if Kenny G gets as much game experience as he can before it is by necessity. I know fans like to see us score 70 points, but I think that will be something to celebrate only if 30 or more of them come when Braxton is not on the field.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I can't wait to see a healthy rested Buckeye squad unleashed on baby Bret's Badgers... going to be a great great game to watch!!!

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timdogdad's picture

our next goal is to start well. how about 14-0 after one and 28-3 at half?   something like that. lets get the heavy lifting done early and rest the starters. 

kevinfrenchfry's picture

i think i'll cry if we go up 14-0 in the first quarter, literally--cry has that even happened this season once? i really dont think so

VHX7's picture

Nope. We were about to against Indiana but Devin Smith had to drop that easy touchdown pass. Instead we went up 10-0 and then immediately allowed Indiana to score a touchdown of their own.

osu07asu10's picture

Boren = future Patriots (Belicheck) 6th-7th rd draft pick. 

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btalbert25's picture

I don't think I really want to see the starters rested much.  Braxton has things to work on, like passing.  He said his footwork is his problem, etc.  I'd like to see them get a nice lead and let him work on some passing.  Practice is to get the reps down and create the habbit of doing things correctly but the game situation is key to put those techniques to work.  I'm not saying run him 25 times over 4 quarters by any means.  I just want to see him work on some things in the passing game at game speed if the team is up a bunch.

Doc's picture

I agree to an extent, but you also don't want to risk injury when the game is no longer in doubt.  I think I would rather let KennyG get some game time reps over losing Braxton. 

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btalbert25's picture

Yeah, definitely within reason.  Like I said, I don't want to see them up 40 and running Braxton on design runs.  I just would like to see them get him work once the game is in hand.  I don't want to be up 3TD's in the 3rd quarter and pull everyone out.

Doc's picture

I gotchya.  They need to know they played, but not beaten up.  I agree he needs to work on his passing.

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Alhan's picture

Does anyone know to what extent the bye week actually changes the player's schedules?  Do the reduce the number of practices or is it only on game day that they see a change?  I guess I would expect that they would still follow the same practice schedule and just have time off on Saturday.

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BUCKfutter's picture

here's hoping a bye week doesnt turn our first quarter struggles into first half struggles due to rust. especially in camp randall.

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

chitown buckeye's picture

Urban has an incredible record coming off the bye week. I think has only one loss from back in his BG days. I am very confident in his ability to keep the team focused. I think it actually helps us knowing we are going into a tough Camp Randall. It will keep everyone focused on the task at hand.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

sdwinks's picture

I think the bye week is perfect timing for the Buckeyes this year. We can use a week to heal  the bumps and bruises and prepare for the biggest road test of the season in Madison. Remember the last time we played the Badgers in Madison, it wasn't pretty and ended a run at a perfect season. The Buckeyes appear to be peaking at the right time, we need to dispatch of Illinois quickly and then get ready for the biggest two games of the season ... UW & UM. Go Bucks!!!


Ahh Saturday's picture

The pressure against PSU was great, but there is always a risk in blitzing.  There was a blitz against PSU that resulted in a sack where Boren slipped in coverage.  The receiver was wide open with nothing but green grass in front of him.  If McMoxie keeps his eyes downfield and takes the hit instead of cringing and cowering with his eyes closed that would've been 6.

painterlad's picture

I risk being the damp, cold Midwestern blanket, but I'm not sold on our defense yet. We have done well against traditional BIG offenses, but every spread offense has given us fits. I think we will beat Illinois just because they are so bad on so many levels, Wisconsin has three plays and four of them include runs up the middle and Michigan runs a...words escape me...a kind of spread running game that counts on D Bag Rob making people miss because the other team can't help but pick him off when he attempts a throw.
Our defense can beat those teams. But what if we were bowl eligible? Can you imagine how many points Oregon or Kansas St. would put up on us? The score board operator would have to ice down his hands after the game.
We have gotten better, but Silver Bullet good? Sorry, I just don't see it.

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Earle's picture

Add me to the list of those who is not yet convinced the defense has turned the corner.  I do think they have played better the last 2 games, and that it has been a combination factors (more Boren, less Cover 4) that definitely includes the offenses we have played.  I don't think we'll see a defense worthy of the Silver Bullet moniker this year.  I hope I am wrong.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Max Power's picture

All along, I've been pretty upset at how a 4 yr starter at FB was able to, in a matter of a week, move to MLB and claim the starting spot. I immediately became distraught at the "lack of playmakers" at the LB position, albeit from a much ballyhooed high school prospect. However, the more I watch him play, I believe the move speaks volumes to Boren's football IQ and hard-nosed play. If nothing else, it gives him more deserved playing time, because let's be honest, Urb's offense isn't tailor made for FBs. Props to Zach for stepping up for his team and proving how versatile of a player he is. Moving him to MLB was the best way for the staff for the best players to be on the field, and Boren is most definitely one of our best. Amazing football IQ for the kid to step into a position he hasn't played since high school. Picking up the position at the D1 college level is nothing short of impressive IMO. Protypical team player there, folks

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Yeah, I think the ideal week for a bye woulda been this week. Get back into the groove against a hapless Illinois team, then slip into successively higher gears the following weeks. But the schedule as is has got to be the second best option. Either way, this is a special year, as I said it would be from the beginning. At the end of the year, Buckeye Nation will be smiling.

I find myself looking for reasons to wear Buckeye gear on non-Saturdays now in SEC land of Arkansas!

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osubuckeye4life's picture

This year the bye week is coming at a great time imho. The team has tons of injuries and they need to get healthier before the last two games.