Missed Tackles, But Coaches See Promising Defense

By Kyle Rowland on September 17, 2013 at 9:15a

It wasn’t until three minutes remained in Ohio State’s romp at Cal that head coach Urban Meyer finally felt comfortable. When the final score is a three-score margin, Meyer’s thinking might elicit a few sideways glances. But when the opponent has numerous big plays and totals more than 500 yards, comfort is not the operative word.

Following a 52-49 win over Indiana last season, Meyer steamed. The performance was so bad that the offensive-minded head coach, made famous by driving opposing defensive coordinators silly, took a larger role on the other side of the ball. The Buckeye defense steadily improved and ended the season as the second-ranked unit for the month of November.

The first two weeks of 2013 yielded positive results, and then Cal went an spoiled the party. The Bears’ first two scoring drives ended on 61- and 42-yard pass plays. Ohio State notched a 52-34 victory, but Cal ended the night with 503 yards of offense and broke 16 – yes, 16 – tackles.

“We want single-digit missed tackles,” Meyer said.

This isn’t the first time the Buckeyes had issues with missed tackles. It wasn’t even the first instance the problem has arisen against Cal. Ohio State defeated the West Coast school by a slim seven-point margin last year, thanks in part to a plethora of failed wrap-up attempts.

The escaped tackles led Meyer to institute tackling drills in practice each day of game week. The process has been repeated ever since. It’s one of the game’s simplest fundamentals, yet proper tackling technique has become a lost art.

“One thing I take personally is poor tackling,” former Buckeye linebacker Chris Spielman told the Detroit News. “I tell little kids, ‘Hit with your eyes.’ If you wrap up, there's a chance of knocking out the football and securing the tackle. Tackling is atrocious. There is so many missed tackles. Head up, wrap up, stay off the head — you need to hold them to that standard. We need to keep preaching that message to high school players.”

Meyer and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel have made sure the Buckeyes don’t fall victim to a growing trend in football. In a game where wins and losses are decided by a few plays, one missed tackle can ruin a season.

“We talk about trying to have less than 10 missed tackles a game,” Vrabel said. “If we can do that, we’re probably going to win the game. The yards after those missed tackles are kind of what kills you.”

Vrabel and linebacker Ryan Shazier each confessed that Cal plays a style of offense that promotes missed tackles. It gets receivers in space and forces defenders to make tackles on an island. It’s different than lining up against a power team and bringing down ball carriers in the B gap. 

Meyer’s overall thoughts on the defense were mixed, even verging on positive. This isn’t the defense of the first half of 2012. It took the Bears 90 plays to get all their yards, and while many would point out they ran 90 plays because the Ohio State defense allowed it, the Buckeyes managed to force four punts. Their own eight scores also contributed to Cal’s play total, which meant an average of 5.5 yards per play.

What Meyer witnessed on the field, though, wasn’t a defense that came unglued. He saw promise and continued growth. Aside from a veteran secondary, the Silver Bullets could just as easily be called the Green Bullets. The linebackers and defensive line are young and inexperienced.

Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry have only started a handful of games combined at linebacker, while Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Noah Spence have all started less than five career games.

“The thing that I always look at is effort,” Meyer said. “I felt like at one time last year there was a bad one. I don’t believe there’s an effort issue. As a matter of fact, I thought our guys played very hard.

“We knew they were going to get their yards. You’re crazy if you think you’re going to just shut them down.”

Shazier, who earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors after collecting 12 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, admitted Cal caught them off guard. Uncharacteristic foolishness from Shazier, a team captain, caught Meyer off guard.

Shazier chased quarterback Jared Goff out of bounds, but kept pursuit and hit him a yard off the field. It drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty and a tongue-lashing from Meyer.

“That was a dumb thing I did,” Shazier said. "I saw him still in bounds a little bit, so I just took my shot. I shouldn’t have done it.”

He also should have ended up with more tackles, according to Meyer. When those 16 missed tackles were added up, five were credited to Shazier, who was deemed a culprit.

“They were bound to break a couple runs and get a couple of big plays,” safety Christian Bryant said. “It happens.”


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edr4225's picture

Yeah we gotta sure up those tackles, we cant be misssing 16 tackles in a game, I am sure the staff will be on them this week

lets go bucks!!

ChazBuckeye's picture

I freaking love that kid.  My kind of Dlineman!  He did a helluva job in place of Diesel Washington.

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

osu07asu10's picture

That picture of Vrabel is gold

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

awlinBrutus's picture

Vrable is awesome. He is a great buckeye. He is also one of the better recruiters on a staff full of great recruiters. On this staff he is the  diamond in the rough.


Ahh Saturday's picture

The poor tackling was at least partly a result of poor positioning, and the poor positioning is a direct result of the speed with which Cal puts the ball in play. Defenders don't have time to read the formation before the ball is snapped, and they're set in scramble mode which often leads to poor tackling.
One personnel issue was troubling. Who was playing star? In order to slow an attack like Cal's you have to have production from that position, and we did not.
Still, even with the tackling issues and questionable play from the star, if we cut down on dumb penalties, and hold on to a couple interceptions, that game could have easily been an even bigger blowout than it was.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Good points. I'd add three other points, which I saw play out against Cal as follows:

  • Intensity - young kids need to learn to go all-out on every play in every game: after the Buckeyes got up 21-0 in the 1Q, they lost their edge for awhile.
  • Depth - Buckeyes will be in good shape when Washington, later on Schutt, and others rotate back into the lineup: from my observation, the worst sequence of tackling was in the 2H, when the defense was obviously dog tired.
  • Live hitting - the staff apparently doesn't like to risk doing a lot of hitting in camp, so the players are playing catchup in September: at times during the Cal game, the Silver Bullets made some excellent open-field tackles; as this team gets more games under its belt and gets closer to full strength, I expect them to be a very good tackling team.
Earle's picture

many would point out they ran 90 plays because the Ohio State defense allowed it

They ran 90 plays because of a hurry-up offense.  They ran 90 plays because the defense didn't give up many big plays.  They ran 90 plays because the Buckeye offense was so efficient that they kept getting the ball back after Ohio State scored quickly.
I wasn't happy with the missed tackles in the second half, but I think it was a plus defensive effort overall.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Great points and I up voted you BUT ... more three and outs and they don't get those 90 plays.  But yeah, it's going to be tougher to get shutouts or even three and outs these days, almost everyone is going to hurry up offenses and the offensive skill players keep getting better every year.  When two opposing players are on an island, it's easier for the offensive player to juke and move a certain way than it is for the defender to predict which way the offensive player is going to go.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

Earle's picture

Yeah, I'd love to see more 3 and outs, but those are hard to come by against that kind of offense.  You basically have to keep everything in front of you and make the tackle, which we did for most of the game, and then capitalize on mistakes.  My biggest complaint about the defensive performance, was not the points, the yardage, or the number of plays, or even the missed tackles.  It was that we failed to make a lot of big plays on defense.  We had a few shots at picks that were missed, that if made, would have turned a good win into an even more dominant performance.
That said, it was a pretty darn good QB we faced, especially for a freshman.  He is going to put up monster numbers in that offense before he is done.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.


I'm more alarmed by the "growing trend" that kids aren't learning how to tackle the right way. I do think too many young players go for the YouTube worthy slobber-knocker rather than practice good form. Good form is boring, right?  I've seen plenty of folks complain that our assistants are to blame for missed tackles. Are they truly to blame? Partially? Not at all? Players reach this level you'd think they would know how to tackle. Not so sure now.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Sure, but I also partly blame the early season missed tackles these days in c.f.b. on the strategic decision of coaches to limit "live hitting" during fall camp. And these coaches are probably smart to do so . . . the risk of injury outweighs the benefits of heavy tackling practice in camp.
With Ohio State playing four weaker opponents to begin the season, the strategy makes even more sense. Hopefully, their tackling will be in mid-season form come Sept. 28 against Wisconsin and the following week at NW.
After that two week mini-bump in the schedule, they have a bye week before resuming play on Oct. 19 against Iowa. The Buckeyes might need to score 40+ points against Wisconsin and NW just to be on the safe side, but I will go on the record here and predict that the Silver Bullets will completely shut down Iowa and will be a lethal force by November, keeping in mind the usual "knock on wood" caveats.

buckguyfan1's picture

These young Bullets are coming along fine.  I believe by mid-season they will be one of the more athletic/exciting defenses we've had in a number of years.   Contrary to many opinions, they are pretty well damn coached too.

buckskin's picture

Spielman wraps it up better than anybody with his quote.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, mostly because it's so easy to do, just wrap.  Problem is so many guys want the big hit, they don't form tackle right.  Let me lead with the shoulder and try to lay the wood, they think.  My team had a safety who gave up 5 TDs that I can remember just trying to nail someone, when all he had to do was wrap up.  Guys would just bounce or spin off of him.  Call me old school, but watching Antoine Winfield make 15 tackles against TTUN is more satisfying than Shaziers hit on the Cal QB last year; and I love Ryan's hits. 
P.S.  You can lay the wood and wrap at the same time.  Ask Mike Doss.
End Rant. 

Cusbuck's picture

Could someone explain to me what the coaches and players mean when they talk about  "maintined(ing) leverage".  I know the definition, just curious how they mean it in coachspeak.

I'm not saying,  I'm just saying.

Ahh Saturday's picture

If you play inside, force the play outside.  If you play outside, force the play inside.

Cusbuck's picture

Thanks for the quick reply.   This has been driving me nuts.

I'm not saying,  I'm just saying.

Larryp713's picture

As frustrating as it is to watch, I completely understand the poor tackling in the 2nd half. The defense had to be exhausted by the second half. We already know there is a lack of depth of linebackers, and the defensive line was down Schutt and Diesel. A lot of new guys playing in the secondary, and that could be a recipe for disaster. I thought the Bullets did as well as can be expected. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the team your playing and acknowledge they had weapons and a system that can make a lot of defenses look bad.
It is interesting that NW beat them by a couple of TDs and gained 548 yds in the process. 20 of Cal's 30 points came in the second half, and NW was faking injuries at the end to slow them down. I don't think there will be many teams that won't have some struggles against Cal's offense this year.



Run_Fido_Run's picture

Spot on - sorry, I ended up duplicating a couple of your points (above) because I hadn't read this far down the thread yet.
One last thing: Cal's QB, Goff is pretty darn good - he usually makes good decisions and throws a nice, accurate ball. I remember one play when Goff was getting squeezed by the rush and was about to go down, when he flicked the ball underneath to a receiver, threading the needle, despite being harassed and on the move. Most QBs wouldn't have gotten the ball off there let alone completed the pass.

ChazBuckeye's picture

Overall the tackling wasn't as bad as last years game against Cal.  I did re-watch the game last night and I agree with Urban.  They played tough throughout the game and didn't give up as many big plays as I originally thought.  They just got tired and who can blame them.  If they stay playing tough then I'm good with that.  Just really don't want a bend don't break style of defense.  Just imagine how good they'll be later in the season.  As well as next year when these guys get used to playing together.  I'm not worried about losing Roby personally.  The other DBs are going to be solid next year.   

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

73buckeye's picture

I wonder why, with the corners we have, opposing receivers seem to get such a large cushion at tghe line of scrimmage. I'd think more press coverage would stop a lot of the quick passes the opponents seem to be using and give the line and linebackers a better shot at getting the opposing quarterback. I'd think at the next level, Roby and Grant are going to be asked to do that a lot against the other teams best receivers. I watch the really good corners on Sundays and it what separates them from the rest.


Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm not sure that tight bump and run coverage really helps that much when teams like Cal run that inside "student body" screen, whatever it's called.
At the snap, one of the 2 or 3 receivers from one side of the field cuts back inside about 3-5 yards behind the l-o-s, and as he's catching the ball, a couple of the OL/TE/RB roll to that side and set up a mini-wall in front of the receiver. At that point, it's matter of getting off blocks, etc., in which case soft (zone) coverage might actually be more effective than bump and run? Maybe Ross will address this question later this week . . .  

Toilrt Paper's picture

Ohio State doesn't have enough experienced bump and run coverers. When defending a spread with that concept, if one of the 5 gets lost there often is no deep help to stop a long YAC play. Right now Ohio State would be MUCH worse off playing a complete bump and run defensive scheme.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Yeah, last night when I was watching the Big Ten Channel I kind of chucked at Ryan Shazier getting the B1G defender of the week award the day after Meyer publicly dressed him down, it's all a matter of perspective I guess.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

InHartWeTrust's picture

BTN's perspective is always total shit.  Last week they all said Michigan was the best B1G team, we see how that turned out.
If you remove Shazier's missed tackles, he did play very well.  However, like you were getting at, you can't just ignore the bad.  Bosa played a better game than Shazier did.

sivaDavis's picture

Joey Bosa needs to be out there. Was very high on that kid when he came in and he is showing me why. I know Diesel is the starter when it comes down to it, but I think he needs to be in there. Great motor and great instincts. He is strong enough to play inside, but quick enough to go outside at End. Seeing him and Diesel bounce around the line would be something to watch. Also, Steve Miller seems like he is making the most out of his appearances on D.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

bucks15's picture

I would have no problem moving Washington inside and starting Bosa at SSDE as the season progresses.  Urban is all about getting the best 11 on the field and by season's end Bosa will be even more established as a difference maker.  Add in Schutt, Hale, S. Miller, Carter, Hill, and Marcus rotating in to keep the starting four fresh, I think this could be a young, elite defensive line by seasons end.    

hit_the_couch's picture

The coaches do stress the fundamentals and hopefully the team gets them down. I have faith the D will get better. I haven't seen any lock down Ds in the top ten, but hopefully ours can handle some of these offenses out there we may face in the end.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

Dougger's picture

The play that angered me the most was miscommunication in the backfield that lead to a catch and Roby trying to push the player out of bounds, who ended up running for a touchdown.

I like football

pjtobin's picture

I will take 16 missed tackles every game , as long as we WIN!! I might be the odd man out on this type of thinking. If winning means get to single digits on missed tackles then do it. But above all win. 

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

zebiraross's picture

Roby seemed not engaged. He got burned multiple times. 2-3 times the qb overthrew the receivers when they had the step on Roby. He gave up 2 td's. The Roby I remember last year was flying all over the field, talking trash, and making plays. To me, it doesn't look like he's excited to play.

I'm excited about Bosa. I think we need to move Diesel inside and keep Bosa strong side.

Pleasant surprise is Steve Miller. Every time he gets on the field he either makes a play or is in the middle of things. I like this Yong man a lot.