Feeling the Heat

By Joe Beale on December 11, 2013 at 1:45p
"When the pass is this high, try your best to grab it."

The defense was a problem. They were good against the run, but could not defend against any kind of functional passing attack. This Ohio State team gave up 253 points in 12 games, a new school record that they would have preferred not to set. One problem was inexperience in the secondary, but even that did not justify their complete inability to defend the pass.

The 2013 Buckeyes? Actually, the paragraph above describes the 1981 version of the team. Like their 2013 colleagues, that Ohio State team had a high-scoring offense with a record-setting quarterback and a powerful running game. But the defense, and in particular the pass defense, was so bad that the team ended up only 9-3 on the season, and they barely got past 14-point underdog Navy in the Liberty Bowl.

After the season, coach Earle Bruce had seen enough. In a purge that was unusual for its time, Bruce fired three of his defensive coaches: Steve Szabo, Dennis Fryzel, and Nick Saban. He replaced them with Fred Pagac, Randy Hart, and Dom Capers, and the next season the defense improved significantly. Could we see something similar in 2013?

Fans have been critical of co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell for some time, dating back to 2011. Now his co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers is starting to get some heat. The problems on defense are a two-year trend, and so the drumbeat to make a change is rising in intensity. Even the rush defense, so solid for much of the season, broke down at times against Michigan State in the B1G championship game. Fans and commentators are looking for someone on whom this can be pinned.

Fickell and Withers are on the hot seat, but should we not also look at the other defensive assistants: line coach Mike Vrabel and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs? Granted, these guys are solid recruiters and they have more enthusiasm for Ohio State football than any 10 other assistants combined. But is that enough to keep a guy around when his position group is underperforming? 

Let's look at the assistants one by one and evaluate them on our own terms.

Luke Fickell

Fickell is, of course, the consummate Buckeye for life. Born and raised in Columbus and a graduate of Ohio State with an impressive career playing defensive line for the team, he was hired by OSU coach John Cooper back in 1999 to serve as a graduate assistant. He went to Akron in 2000 to serve as defensive line coach there, then returned to Ohio State in 2002 (nice timing!) and became the special teams coach. In 2004 Fickell was named linebackers coach and then in 2005 he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator, where he has served ever since with a one-year exception: his stint as interim head coach in 2011.

That brief assignment was a thankless job: Fickell presided over a depleted team in the wake of a scandal that caused the national media to enter a new level of OSU derangement syndrome. It was a difficult task, and Fickell's reputation suffered as his OSU team closed the season with four straight losses to finish 6-7. When Urban Meyer was hired to take over the reins of the program, Fickell was the first assistant he hired, but he immediately came under fire in 2012 as the team struggled on defense to start the season. The heat subsided some as the defense improved dramatically in the month of November, but in 2013 the problems started all over again and the heat has been intense of late.

All that said, it's worth remembering how successful Fickell was prior to becoming interim head coach. His official bio on the university's web site summarized it well:

Ohio State has had some outstanding defenses during Fickell's time with the team. In 2005 the unit was fifth in the NCAA in total defense and first in rushing defense. In 2006 it was 12th in total defense. In 2007 the Buckeyes were first nationally in total defense, in addition to being first in scoring and pass defense. The team was 14th in total defense in 2008 and, in 2009 and 2010, the Buckeyes were fifth and fourth, respectively, in total defense.

"I better never catch you loafing!"Coombs is a fiery leader who recruits with a passion.

Was his previous success due to the mentorship of his co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock? It's an interesting question, especially as we examine the merits of his current co-defensive coordinator.

Everett withers

Withers is a veteran, having served as an assistant coach in either college or the pros continuously since 1988. Like Fickell, he was an interim head coach in 2011, serving in that capacity at North Carolina after scandals caused head coach Butch Davis to step down. He also has a record of success, and it covers multiple stops on his resume.

In 2009, with Withers as defensive coordinator, North Carolina ranked #6 in the country in total defense. They were 10th against the run, 14th against the pass, and 13th in scoring defense. As secondary coach for the Tennessee Titans in the NFL, Withers led a unit that consistently ranked high in grabbing interceptions.

Withers and Fickell had never worked together prior to 2012, and Fickell had worked with Heacock for 10 seasons prior to that. Is it possible that this is just not a good partnership? Is it too much to ask Fickell to adjust his philosophy after doing things the same way for so long? Does Withers chafe at the fact that a younger guy is given a title equivalent to his? Ohio State is a high-pressure environment, and working for Urban Meyer makes it even more intense.

Kerry coombs

Pass defense has been a huge problem this season, especially in the last two games. However, Coombs' primary responsibility is cornerbacks, and that area seems pretty solid to me. In addition, Coombs is the special teams coordinator, and that group has been nothing short of excellent this season. Other than the occasional coverage busts from Bradley Roby, I'd say that the results on the field speak for themselves as far as Coombs' areas of coaching responsibility.

Most people believe that the real reason Coombs was brought in was to recruit the Cincinnati area. This was one of the few areas in the state where OSU recruiters did not clean up during Jim Tressel's tenure, and so Meyer hired Coombs to make some inroads there. So far it has paid off with current sophomore Adolphus Washington and 2014 commit Sam Hubbard. If Ohio State is to continue to recruit the area well over the next few years, Coombs will be the key to that.

mike vrabel

The defensive line has shined at times, but overall it has been a disappointment this season when the expectations were so high. It might have seemed unfair to expect a lot of production out of a unit that was replacing all four starters, but with former starter Michael Bennett returning, and with blue-chip reserves expected to step up into stardom, many thought the defensive line would be a strength of the team. As I wrote earlier, Bennett and freshman Joey Bosa have been outstanding. But injuries have slowed some of the others while others like Noah Spence have not lived up to expectations.

Vrabel's playing career, both at Ohio State and in the NFL, is legendary. As far as coaching goes though, Ohio State is the only entry on his resume. Is it a bad idea for a guy to hold a coaching position based solely on his playing career and his relationship with the co-defensive coordinator? Personally, I like Vrabel and I think having him on the staff is a good thing, but it's fair to look at his performance as coach with some scrutiny. And even in the most positive light, there's a bit to be desired in the performance of OSU's defensive line this season.

It seems to me that many of the problems on defense this season have centered around the linebackers and the safeties, and this brings the conversation back to Fickell and Withers, because in addition to being co-defensive coordinators they are responsible for those position groups.

The injury to Christian Bryant was obviously a big factor, but even multi-year starter C.J. Barnett has struggled at times and the other safeties have been worse. The linebackers have been better, but their pass coverage has been suspect as other teams have riddled our coverage schemes with screens and passes to the tight ends. On top of all that, the tackling has often been shoddy, leading to big gains when the play should have been shut down a lot sooner.

The last point I wanted to mention is one of familiarity. When Urban Meyer was hired, he talked about the challenge of filling out the staff when many of his former assistants (he specifically mentioned Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong) were already employed in positions that were prestigious enough that they would not be interested in coming to Ohio State. Is it possible that one reason for the struggles is that Meyer doesn't know these guys well enough to be able to push the right motivational buttons with them?

In any case, the fact that these men have not been with Meyer for very long will make it easier to let one or more of them go, or easier for one or more of them to move on to another job if they so choose. They will probably all be strong candidates for other coaching jobs, despite the way the defense has performed this season. After all, the team still has only one loss in the last two years.


Comments Show All Comments

ATXbucknut's picture

Interesting that I think many fans have a different take on the DL and CBs.  Opposite of this article, I think the DL has been much more productive compared to last year (31.5 sacks vs. 19.5), while the CBs have not really improved since last year (Roby had many coverage busts this year, and Reeves isn't a serviceable CB at this point).
I guess it's subjective, but I feel like I was watching a different team than you were this year.

Tropicalbuckeye's picture

Yeah, I'm with this guy.  I can kinda maybe see what you mean about the D-line if I squint real hard because there were times they just didn't get pressure, but linebackers and secondary have been the biggest issue, I think, from the games I watched.

SouthernBuck's picture

I agree!  I'm happy with the way the DLine played andI'm not at all worried about them.  
The linebackers are not good (sans RDS).  I would put some of the blame for this on youth, injuries, and lack of depth  I'm not an expert, just a fan, but other than Shazier, it seems like they spend to much time deciphering the play.  By the time they get it, it's gone. 
The corners and safeties look lost.  It seems the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.  
All just my couch observations...

chibucks's picture

agreed.  the DL has looked good - you can't expect them to always beat their guy everytime.  i can't figure out whether it's the scheme or the players that's causing the secondary issues.  the loss of christian bryant was HUGE - pitt brown looked lost.  our secondary never had an identity - press cover or soft cover - we always seem to lose someone in the secondary that's wide open.

CC's picture

I agree.
We have not heard the term "coverage sack" in the last 2 years.

Bucks777's picture

CB look solid????  What am I  missing here...?
CB 2013:
1) could not tackle properly most of the season.
2) Lost in space during zone coverage 85% of the time;  3) Not Physical enough to go man to man  coverage;  4) Lack of ball skills; assignments constantly blown to make QB look great; 5) Played on their heels "trying to not get burnt , lack confidence"...  need I continue... passing yards against etc...  
Sounds like someone who may be a tad bit bias, when it comes to Coombs.

Furious George 27's picture

Blown coverage is why we are preparing for the Orange instead of the BCS NCG... If the line did not excel its because they didn't have all day to rush the passer or players like Spence were in pass coverage at time. Being solid is not a good thing when one side was supposed to be manned by a lock down 1st rounder.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

TMac's picture

Feeling the Heat

Is that referring to Joe feeling the heat for the assessment of the CB's and D-Line?

ONE Not Done!

Baroclinicity's picture

Oh, to be inside Urban Meyer's head right now.  
All I know is I can't remember the last time I was ever worried about a Buckeye defense.  It's kind of depressing.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

droessl's picture

The only way I'd call the DL a disappointment is in comparison to some of our own (mine included) nearly impossible to reach expectations.  I thought the DL was pretty damn good on the year. 

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

7th in rushing yards allowed per game.
6th in rushing yards allowed per attempt.
7th in sacks.
Those are all better marks than Alabama and Florida State.

droessl's picture

really tired of these disappointing top-10 rankings. Get it together! 

biggy84's picture

@ Humble
I wonder how much those rushing numbers are skewed by the fact that teams didn't have to rush against us when they got their yardage through their passing game? Why bother running when you have cart blanche passing?

penult's picture

In my opinion, Spence didn't excel but he was also a victim of being asked to drop into coverage WAY too much. Whether it was an issue of defensive scheme, play calling, or LB performance/depth (or all of the above) you're not going to produce sacks and TFL when you're dropping into coverage.
I could be wrong, but it seemed Adolphus was dealing with injuries all year. The way he played last year, some were higher on him than Spence. 
So considering those two issues, along with production from Bennett and a true freshman, you've got to be crazy to call out Vrabel at this point (and that's why you're alone on it).

Bamabucknut's picture

Another sports site posted these damming FACTS.
"Since their first season in 1889, the Buckeyes have allowed 20 points per game over a season nine times, and the 10th is very likely to happen this season.
1890 – 32.0 ppg
1943 – 20.8 ppg
1981 – 21.1 ppg
1988 – 25.7 ppg
1989 – 24.8 ppg
1999 – 23.9 ppg
2001 – 20.3 ppg
2011 – 21.0 ppg
2012 – 22.8 ppg
2013 – 21.3 ppg (with one game remaining)Since their first season in 1889, the Buckeyes have allowed 20 points per game over a season nine times, and the 10th is very likely to happen this season."
So...what is the reason for the last three years ?
One year I can say  we didn't have the players....maybe even two.But three years is a trend that's more than players not performing.

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

The ironic things about 2011 is, it's the lowest PPG of the past three years, and it was against arguably a MUCH better QB and RB slates. MSU with Cousins, Martin Cunningham and Bell. Wisconsin with Russell Wilson and Montee Ball. Miami with Harris and Lamar Miller. Penn State with McGloin, Moye, Justin Brown, and Silas Redd. Florida with Brantley, Rainey and Demps (yeah, Brantley wasn't great, but Rainey and Demps were). And yet the only teams to manage to score 30 on us were Michigan with Denard Robinson and Nebraska with Taylor Martinez (28 of which was in the second half.. that was ugly).
How many times did we give up 30 this year? 5 times? And probably 6, after Clemson.
hat tip to Jim Heacock. Especially since that 2011 offense couldn't sustain a drive (81st in 3rd down conversion percentage) and the defense was often gassed.

raki's picture

That's an amazing stats, and I am sure the Avg would increase with the bowl game

kmp10's picture

However, Coombs' primary responsibility is cornerbacks, and that area seems pretty solid to me.

Very good read... interesting. However, I have no idea how you arrive at the above conclusion. I have, specific to the corners, an opinion that is the polar opposite of yours. Nothing wrong with that, and I genuinely did enjoy the piece... but you lost me in saying the corners seem solid.

FLAMikey's picture

This X 1000. Totally baffling conclusion.

Doc's picture

To me the D line was the strength.  When we did rush more than three guys we got pressure on the QB and made tackles for loss.  I think the back half of the defense is the problem especially pass defense.  Hitting guys with your shoulder has been a problem for our defense for years, well before Urban came to town.  Proper tackling technique would go a long way in fixing some of our problems.  To me the problem is more coaching then player related. 

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

GoBucksToledo's picture

Let's not overlook, with the exception of RDS, the weak/inconsistent linebacker play.  Whose position group is that anyway?

yrro's picture

Same guy who was in charge of it when we had guys named Hawk, Carpenter, Laurinaitis, Freeman, Rolle, and Homan playing there...
Yeah, I don't know what the heck is going on, either. The only possible constant I have seen is that we have done much better with intellectual guys than physical freak 5* recruits during that time period.

penult's picture

You think that Spence hasn't lived up to expectations, but the corners are "solid." You don't think Roby had higher expectations than Spence, and had a worse year? Wow.

Earle's picture

That Saban guy couldn't coach a lick.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

southbay's picture

I had no idea that you had actually fired him way back when!  Wow.

dwcbuckeye's picture

Wow, you said:
"while others like Noah Spence have not lived up to expectations".  umm, Really?
As a Sophmore, Spence finished 2nd in the B10 in Sacks, made 1st Team all B10 by the Media and 2nd team by the coaches.  What were your expectations exactly?

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

And those numbers would have been better if he wasn't asked to be a linebacker.  He is a natural defensive end.  He should have his hand on the ground on every defensive snap.

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

2morrow's picture

DOUBLE WOW! I can't believe you said this! Spence is a disappointment??? I think not. He got doubled some and spent the later part of the year as a quasi linebacker. Spence is a beast.

iball's picture

Im not crazy at all about the level of talent in the secondary and with the LBs. 
Vonn Bell
Cam Burrows
Eli Apple
Mike Mitchell
^^^Where the hell were these guys?! Were they really that bad that they couldnt get a chance to play?!

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Barnsey69's picture

I second that.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

dan_isaacs's picture

Red Shirts.  But Vonn Bell, yeah, he shoulda been playing.

Dan Isaacs

Seattle Linga's picture

Well stated - I think Spence will only be better and better especially after the offseason programs. He will also be a great compliment to Mt. Bosa!

MassiveAttack's picture

As others above have said, I believe the D-Line was a strength, and the CBs were a major disappointment.  I was really surprised to read the author of this article saying the opposite. I thought when the line was allowed to blitz (add in an LB), they excelled. 
I think the CBs never really scared anyone all season. The most experienced group on the defense?  Please. Even missing Christian Bryant, tOSU should have plenty of athletes to play.  If your defensive scheme is so complicated that a 5-star like Vonn Bell cannot see the field while we are getting torched by Cal, Wisconsin, _Michigan, MSU, and Illinois, then the scheme is the problem.   Nobody else gave up as many points to Cal after we did.  We made Goff, Stave, Cook and Scheelhause look like Winston.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

Bucks777's picture

...don't forget gardner, what a joke.

Paulillo's picture

You might even say our CBs couldn't keep us "safe from harm."

biggy84's picture

It's very obvious to me that Heacock was the man that ran the defense, not Fickell. The defense now doesn't resemble what has been the norm under Heacock. In fact, the defense does not appear to have any identity or answers on how to fix what is broken. A ship without a captain. That is coaching. Too much talent is being wasted.

Actorjonnyb's picture

I agree. I don't ever want to cause a fellow buckeye to lose his job. I've been really hard on him in these posts, but his results speak for themselves, as they did when he was HC in 2011.
Did he really save our program that year? 
He sat Hyde on the bench most of that year. He sat Guiton all of that year and Braxton half of it despite their similarities to a TP run offense for the previous 3 years. Could've just plugged one of them into TP plays...I don't think you can say stupid things like "Guiton hadn't bought into the program yet", or Brax wasn't ready, etc. They are athletes. period.
Meyer took those same guys and went 24-0.
I think some of our great linebackers of this decade were also successful because they were in a System or scheme, whether Dantonio or Heacock, that allowed them to flourish.
I dont see that system in place these past 2 years. The most troubling aspect is the downward trend of our defense. It is certainly not improving and arguably regressing. 
There is no identity there. That said, I would love it if Luke got a HC job and began a very successful journey as a head coach. He deserves it.


bigbill992001's picture

Isnt it Urb's job to see that those things get fixed?   They, Urb and the defensive staff, kept saying it but it never got fixed.   Plus, we had 2 bye wks. to work on it.

FailtotheVictors's picture

I get the pass D was bad, but what about our passing attack? I would argue equally as bad - down the stretch at least.  After the Wisconsin game Braxton fell back into old habits and our receivers could rarely get separation.  Our lack of a passing attack held us back from beating MSU as well.

- Respect the Rivalry -

BuckeyeQ6's picture

Yes, the passing game wasn't great down the stretch, but MSU's secondary did make some great plays.  I think our run attack was good enough to win if our defense plays better.  Iowa, Purdue(!), _ichigan, Northwestern, and Minnesota all held MSU to fewer points.  You can't give up 34 points and expect to win against the #1 defense.  The defense has been a liability all year, even against Buffalo and Cal before Bryant went down.

GA_bucki's picture

Anything with 2 heads is a monstrosity. This Co-Defensive coordinator business needs to go. This defense needs ONE coordinator who can apply his scheme and overall personality. We need one guy with a clear vision, especially with an offensive minded HC. IMO, the article is mostly correct in the assessment of the key problem areas. Safety play has been atrocious. The LBs, other than RDS, have been MIA. I don't think its a coincidence that the problem areas also happen to be the areas of specific responsibility for the two co-D coordinators. Best case scenario is that one or both of them move on to HC jobs and UM brings in an aggressive minded, demanding DC who can whip this unit into shape.

justanotherbuckeye22's picture

8 in the  box  is  that what we   use on defense?  curious

ibuck's picture

If you have questions about 8 in the box, which is not an overall defensive scheme,  here's an explanation.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

GrayDay's picture

Have to chime also to question the DL evaluation.  I thought the DL became surprisingly good and eventually the lone strength, along with Shazier.  Once Meyer told them to dial up the pressure, they got it the rest of the season, often with only 4 rushing.  They seem to held back mostly by poor coverage skills behind them.  Brax had more time to pass than MSU's QB, but the latter found guys wide open.
I don't know if it was bad coverage skills per se, or guys being lost.  The linebacker weakness seems to have been the biggest deal (other than Shazier) and I wonder if strength there is crucial to a pass defensive system working well at all.
But if the DL was the problem, I'd be interested in hearing why.  Maybe the DBs had to worry too much about running plays to execute well in the pass game?

EvanstonBuckeye's picture

I'm not sure why, for some, it is so unthinkable to consider letting assistant coaches go. It's just a byproduct of the business, as noted about Bruce in 1981. Sometimes you need new blood and, for the coaches that may be let go, sometimes you need new scenery. We need to get over the belief that anyone outside of the head coach is untouchable. It's simply myopic.

AltaBuck's picture

Do you think Coach Meyer brought Heacock onboard last Spring to keep him away from other programs with the understanding that Fickell and Withers would leave for HC opportunities as Heacock becomes the new DC?

I am Groot - Groot

FailtotheVictors's picture

I also noticed Spence wasn't as productive down the stretch. 

- Respect the Rivalry -

OSUBias's picture

Since we were dropping him into zone coverage 50% of the time. Hard to sack the QB when you're covering the RB on a wheel route.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

cdub4's picture

I agree with the general sentiment that corners did not play as well as you think, and the D line, for playing two true sophomores and one true freshman quite a bit, was not a disappointment.

Roby I think overall played better than most fans think, he did have a couple rough games without a doubt. Grant was solid but not spectacular for a first year starter. Reeves struggled, and Burrows didnt get enough playing time to tell. Apple, despite enrolling early and being an elite prospect, could not earn playing time, although, to be fair.. he came in rather slender.

CC's picture

Who cares about how slender Apple is?  Reeves looks like a running back but he can't cover anyone is that a better option?  Roby was a disappointment and admitted he took his eye off the ball this year.  I just don't see how Burrows (who looked good in limited action), Bell who looked good on ST and in limited action and Apple who I didn't notice playing outside of the spring game could be worse than Reeves, Pitt Brown and co.
I fully believe it is on the coaches.  How many teams in the country would not trade their entire defensive backfield for the talent on ours?  2, 3, maybe 5?  Yet we get torched all the time.
Honestly we better score 50 on Clemson because Boyd / Watkins will be in full effect.

Bucks777's picture

I'll take slender any day over what we fielded. Hay if he can cover and create disruptions in the  secondary I am all for it...I watched him in the spring practices and he looked awesome. even had a sack coming of a CB blitz and created a fumble which he then recovered.  I would have had him in their early in the season just to get him some work against those teams we played to help his confidence and see where he fits in...  Bell did very well also. Burrows above average as well. Not sure why we didn't create an urgency to prepare them, knowing from the onset that we could potentially go undefeated and end up in a  NCG.

JLP36's picture

I think the D line was solid and would have looked better with stronger SAM and MIKE play.
The linebackers were disappointing with the exception of RDS.  That is a big exception.
A Sr S and long time starter went down with a busted ankle and the impact was big.
The attrition rate at LB and S has long been horrific and it has shown.  That said, it is not too much to expect the guys that are playing to be able to tackle or find a TE in coverage.
Corner play was disappointing.
LB and S have been weak for the past few years and you cannot be a great D that way.  It is especially hard to watch given the absolute hardass LBs and Ss that the Buckeyes have fielded since time began.  We grow them here the way Iowa and Nebraska grow corn.  Several great Ohio boys are playing LB at other programs right now.
Lots of room for improvement, but nuking the whole D staff might not be the answer. 


RedStorm45's picture

Re: Coombs coming in for recruiting in Cincy - Didn't Washington commit BEFORE Meyer took the job?  If so, Coombs has no bearing on his commitment and thus only one Cincy-area recruit has committed in the last 2-3 classes, no?
Special Teams was a bit hit or miss.  No returns for TDs, though Dontre had some nice KO returns over the 50.  A couple punt blocks.  A PR allowed for a TD.  Kickoff coverage was pretty good.  We ran into a punter how many times?? And a returner?  Like I said, it was a bit hit or miss.
D-Line an overall disappointment?  Led the nation in sacks.  Pretty decent against the rush until the last two games.  Cornerbacks NOT a disappointment?  Abre-whatever torched Roby for 200 yards.  Grant looked overwhelmed in Indy.  Reeves was not ready as Roby's replacement against Iowa.

Furious George 27's picture

I do not think that this was the best written article. As far as special teams, I think they were generally very good in limiting returns, I think they did have 1 return for a TD and for the roughing the kicker penalties that was early in the season and they were in position and just missed. If you want to keep Coombs, keep him for that.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Buckeye Beast's picture

I'm yet another in agreement about the d-line being the strength of this defense. I've heard Bennett could sneak into the 1st round if a team likes him enough. Bosa is playing like a stud as everyone expected, and although I can't find stats on this tablet to save my life, I think Spence leads the team in sacks. I've been very optimistic about the play of our d-line. The corners have to be the second best unit on defense in my opinion. I think Roby suffers from Clowney syndrome, because he would be the best DB prospect in the draft if he played up to the same level as last year. But as for Linebackers, only Shazier avoids scrutiny. And safety's are a concern. I'll join many others in saying we should end the co-defensive coordinator thing and hand Heacock a blank check. Meyer wants the defense to perform at a Ohio State level, hire the guy who set the standard. My opinion.

Even Squirrels hate Michigan

RedStorm45's picture

Heacock didn't exactly "set the standard," I think he more or less picked up where Pagac left it.
And it's funny how we were chiding Heacock and Fickell after the '06 and '07 title games.

yrro's picture

To their credit, I feel that they showed they had adjusted when we played Oregon, Arkansas, and to a large part even Texas.
There's no defense in the country that didn't get pantsed 2-3 times during that time period.

Actorjonnyb's picture

Our D was exposed those years. A great D for the Big 10, but overall, nowhere near a National Champ D


Estrada's picture

But wouldn't you LOVE to have either of those D's instead of the 2013 version?  I know I sure would.

biggy84's picture

And it's funny how we were chiding Heacock and Fickell after the '06 and '07 title games.
I believe everyone was in shock about the '06 NCG. People forget the offenses that team played that year. First team to ever beat the #2 team in the country twice in the same season. National critics point to the NC game as proof that the SEC was a superior conference. What they forget to mention is how large of a favorite we were going into that game. Those same people were predicting a victory for the good guys. Too much has been accepted as fact with that game, except for one thing: tOSU was overconfident and had a bad game. One bad game doesn't erase the other 12, IMO.

Buckeye Beast's picture

CBs are still not meeting expectations

Even Squirrels hate Michigan

RedStorm45's picture

I think the first decision re: defensive staff will be to eliminate the "co" title.  Meyer will likely choose between Fickell or Withers if one can stick around.  If both leave for HC jobs, then it's a whole new ballgame.
I don't see Vrabel leaving.  If anything, perhaps he gets an increased role on the staff.  Coombs, I could go either way with.  Emotion and passion only get you so far.  Maybe Meyer gives him a year with "his guys" next season.

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

Roby wasn't the freakish stud he became last year until Coombs showed up.  I think that indicates an ability to coach a great athlete into a great corner on his part.  I also believe Roby essentially took responsibility for his poor play when he explained how he had stopped watching film the way he did last year and stopped focusing on his assignment as much as he focused on trying to get a big play for the first 6 games. He also credited Coombs with getting his head back on straight.
I also think Coombs is critical to recruiting for OSU in Cinci or anywhere espcially since he has cultivated some relationships with coaches and players in Michigan's HS ranks which are starting to pay dividends .  Webb's number one reason for committing to OSU so early last summer even though he is a Cass Tech kid from Detroit was because he loved Coach Coombs.  Landing a blue chipper from Michigan's equivalent of the OSU Cleveland Glenville pipeline is enough to keep him for another year alone.

TMac's picture

However, Coombs' primary responsibility is cornerbacks, and that area seems pretty solid to me.

The defensive line has shined at times, but overall it has been a disappointment this season

Joe, what are you smoking? And can I get some, cause that's got to be some serious shit?!?!

ONE Not Done!

SOF_Buckeye's picture

As mentioned by the vast majority here, I'm not exactly sure what defense Joe was watching. The entire defensive line had to be replaced, and was the biggest concern coming into the season. By the end, it was the strongest piece of the defense. The secondary was supposed to be the rock of the defense, but played like the French in the Spring of 1940. 

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Woody Hayes

teddyballgame's picture

"The cornerbacks look solid" and "the dline was a disappointment"

saevel25's picture

I agree, I think the DL has done well. They have done great in run support. They have let Shazier fly to the ball. They have gotten after the QB. The problem is DB's have to hold coverage for at least 4 seconds. That is the internal clock of the QB, 4 seconds to go through the reads, then you start worrying about the offensive line. Cause the problem is, of all those sacks, how many this year were COVERAGE sacks. 
I remember in the Tressel era they would have a few coverage sacks a game. Meaning the DB's held their coverage for more than 4 seconds, allowing the D-line to get a sack. We maybe had like a handful all year, that is sad. 

droessl's picture

All the wacky (and just flat out WRONG) views in the OP makes me wonder how many DVs it would get were this posted by a layman such as myself. 

tcm1968's picture

Two things. Not sure how you can grade any area of this team on defense because it seems there is ZERO trust. DL covering for LBers, LBers covering for secondary. Safeties not trusting corner and LB play. You just had a lot of guys out of position because they didn't trust someone to do their job.
Second. Still think the biggest problem is scheme matching talent. Urban came in here two years ago suggesting we were going to run a SEC style defense and has gone out and recruited SEC type defensive players. Guys who get after the guy with the ball. What does Luke do? He plugs those kids into his scheme. Noah Spence isn't dropping into coverage in the SEC. Guys like Roby/Grant etc aren't lining up 10 yards from the WR in the SEC.
Liked Luke as a player and admire what he did when Tress stepped down but when your head coach says we're heading to an SEC style defense and you do nothing to take steps in that direction maybe it's time for a change.

ibuck's picture

Could it be that the CB's were covering for weak LB corps and run defense, and not able to also cover everyone? Or got conflicting orders from position coaches and/or D-coordinators?
Is that what Michael Bennett wanted to tweet about and couldn't?
Could it be that Meyer, being hired late, could not assemble as good a D-staff as desired?

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

I may not be completely correct on this, but I think a good many of our assistant coach firings over the years have come because of a perceived inability to pull one's weight in recruiting, not so much because of how their unit of responsibility has played (and let's face it, our teams have almost always been good or excellent). 
This isn't to say there's not room to criticize here and there, but by the time you reach the point where an Ohio State is hiring you, that you know how to teach is pretty much a given. I think a lot of our issues on defense this year have been due more to deficiencies in game planning and yes, personnel, than to something like "How come Coombs/Withers/Fickell isn't telling them how to make tackles or not to wander out of their zone."

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

RuGettinIt's picture

I didn't see much in this article that I agreed with to be sure.  Dline got held a lot this year, it was ridiculous in some games how bad it was (ahem Illinois) and they still had an amazing sack count. I am curious as to why Burrows didn't see more time at CB, especially ahead of Reeves.  He played well in relief of Grant. 
Just seemed odd that some of the young guys saw little to no action this year with the struggles.  If a dog is gonna bite..oh never mind....

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

It's really simple folks. The defense is bad. The stats say so. And your eyeballs should too if you're being honest with yourselves.
What's more is that this is the Big Ten. It's not exactly an air-raid conference. The highest rated QB in the conference is Devin Gardner (33rd in pass efficiency). Yes, Devin Gardner (I'm sure his stats against OSU have a lot to do with that). The next highest are 42 - Nate Sudfeld (Indiana LOL), 48 - Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois LOL), 57 - Joel Stave (who can barely walk), and 64 - Christian Hackenberg (a true freshman who didn't even enroll early).
This isn't 2011 where we faced Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson. This crop of B1G QBs that we faced was very "meh".

BuckeyeSouth's picture

I'm thinking Joe meant to post this at The Onion.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

hetuck's picture

Here's a little more insight on the 1981 purge including Saban. OSU played a 70's vintage 5-2 that couldn't adapt to pro-style three receiver (shocking!) formations. Dave Wilson from Illinois set a then-NCAA record for passing yards in Ohio Stadium. Navy ran the triple option, but passed for tons of yards and came within an onside kick of beating OSU. I remember listening to the end of the game on my car radio on AFN at the Giessen train station. In this case it was x's and o's, not personnel. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

You know - I love this site, the articles, and the posters but sadly, right now - I'm walking away from it for a while because, quite frankly, I'm fairly disgusted and embarrassed by the way a majority of Buckeye fans are acting after the B1G Championship game.  Christ, even the UM fans handled their horrid season much better than we handle one fucking loss in 2 seasons.  
Fire all of the defensive coaches because they went 24 - 1?  Seriously?  Get some perspective folks and grow up - it is a football game and in the end, these are 18 - 21 year old kids they're dealing with who have busted their fucking asses all year and they don't need to hear this kind of whiny ass pissing and moaning by their fans because they lost to MSU.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

avail31678's picture

I hear you, I do.  And I'm definitely on the side of appreciating what we've got and what we've done (24-1!!!) as opposed to the other side that's disappointed.
BUT...we've like come close to setting records for OSU for points allowed and yards allowed.  Our very very good offense has gotten us a lot of wins that we wouldn't have gotten in the Tressel era with the same defense.  It's NOT talent.  How did we go from top-5 defenses to not so much?  Was it Heacock leaving?  Is it Fickel and Withers not meshing?  Something has changed, and it's not talent. 
If we can just tweak the D a little bit in the right direction...we'll be legit national title contenders.  We're so close. 

Blackbeards Delight's picture

Relax fellow Buckeye. You realize there are always idiot fans on the fringes of Buckeye Nation. Now if you don't think that the majority of the fine OSU brethren who visit this site don't appreciate what this team has accomplished the last two seasons, you are mistaken. We've seen the offense develop over the last two years into one of the tops in the country. The same clearly cannot be said for the defensive side of the ball which has actually regressed from last season. The fact of the matter is these 18- 21 year olds were/are working their asses off for more than a loss in the conference championship game. They expect more of themselves. One of the reasons they came to The Ohio State University is because the fans expect it too. If you don't think that people voicing opinions on how to improve something that is clearly not up to the standard that is expected is warranted, then perhaps you prefer mediocrity.  Because that's what will happen. I guarantee no one at the Woody Hays is saying man, we won 24 in a row. They're saying, we lost the 25th. GO BUCKS! Improve. Beat Clemson and start a new streak.

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


RedStorm45's picture

The 2013 defense is/was arguably the worst defense in Ohio State history (modern era at least).  Kthanksbye.

Furious George 27's picture

The defense over the last 3 seasons has been getting worse, and it didn't take the loss to MSU for fans to finally realize it... It has been brought up many times. Unfortunately for Fickell he couldn't hide behind the "Did we win" line like he did last week. 18-21 year olds busting their asses is well appreciated, D-Coordinators/position coaches wasting their hard work by not coaching them up the right way is detrimental to their growth. I believe that in only 9 total seasons OSU has given up 20+ PPG and 3 of those seasons have been in the last 3 years. If you do not produce at work you get let go, why are you thinking that it should be different with Fickell and Co at OSU? Fans have a right to gripe going on 3 years now.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

okiebuck's picture

I think Urban is pushing Fickell for the BG job so that he won't have to fire him.

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

BuckiGirl's picture

I work at BG and have a friend who works in athletics, and she has heard that, too. 

a.buck's picture

Maybe I am overly optimistic but I am 100% certain the d gets fixed. We have a head coach obsessed with perfection, highly tallented young players with more on the way, top knotch facilities at a tradition rich school in a tallent rich state. How is this problem not solved in the very near future?

Balkestud's picture

One thing everyone has to remember is urban's D will never be as good as tress' D simply because of the offense. tressel ran a ball control scheme to keep his D well rested and very rarely put in bad situations. which, by the way, we all complained about. urban however brings a high powered, taking chances, up tempo style of offense which by its nature allows the opposing offense many more oppurtunities thus tiring our D in the process. that being said where I believe our defensive coaches let us down was in their read and react stlye they implemented. Bend but don't break systems rarely work in college, especially when coupled with an explosive offense. I believe going forward we need a attacking stlye defense where even if we give up the occasional big play, the turnovers and 3 and outs we would generate would far outweigh the dangers of the big play. the problem is figuring out why/who we ran this D. I do feel that a change is needed for no other reason than that we change the national perception immediately..but what do I know

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,



BenArazi4's picture

his defenses at florida were nasty, pretty soon here once he gets his players he wants in the positions he wants, i have a feeling you're going to be retracting that statement.




Balkestud's picture

look it up...his offense was never as explosive as ours this year..check your stats ben

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,



Furious George 27's picture

This defense was not very good when they played Tressel ball in Fickell's interim season. You can say the opposing offenses had more opportunities and what not, but being completely lost in coverage is not a product of an up tempo offense or the opposing offense having more tries. OSU slowed it down as much as they speed up the tempo this year.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

BenArazi4's picture

Are you kidding me criticizing Vrabel?  That guy has done an excellent job recruiting, motivationally and coaching these kids up.  I don't know where we finished on the regular season but now too long ago, we were ranked 2nd in the nation in sacks!  SECOND!  Now consider a D-coordinator with a pulse, we would have easily been first and it wouldn't have been close!  The line is composed of Bosa (freshman), Washington (sophomore), Bennett (junior), and Spence (sophomore).  Vrabel is one of Ohio State football's BEST assets in ONLY HIS SECOND YEAR.  As far as Coombs, I completely agree with you and as far as getting rid of Fickell and Withers I couldn't agree more but c'mon man, Vrabel??????????  Excellent assistant coach and it wouldn't surprise me if he made D-coordinator in a year or two.




angelique's picture

dear Arizona-Buckeye,
These 18 to 21 year old kids have done absolutely nothing in their 18 - 21 years except play ball.   It all started when they were 5, probably tee ball was first.     In the summer they played their type of baseball, then came football and then basketball.    They have never had to mow their yard, never held down a summer job and certainly never worked on the week-ends.    Therefore, we are entitled to more from these "kids".     They are getting a "free" college education.      They must earn it.       And when I go thru all those miserable commercials that I have to watch while watching the buckeyes play football, well, I want to win, every single game.     They ought to be able to do this crap in their sleep for cryin out loud.    So wake up and smell the roses Mr. Arizona-Buckeye.
Asa Laama Leechum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Or however you spell it and I am not going to look it up.   


TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

Those whining that we don't have the talent or proper personnel sound as ridiculous as Will Muschamp and the Florida fans have over the past few years. You know, the same Florida fans we've been rolling our eyes out everytime they say "Urban left the cupboard bare!".
We are far and away the most talented team in the Big Ten. While other schools were slipping the past 7 years, we pulled in Top 10 classes and gapped ourselves from the rest of the conference.
Those defending guys like Coombs are doing it because A) they're from Cincinnati, or B) mesmerized by his intensity to where they don't think rationally, or C) value recruiting over actual player development and coaching.

bairjo's picture

I don't really post much here...just really enjoy the Buckeye enthusiast and their comments.But for what it is worth...Coach Meyer believes and lives by  the philosophy that the best players play.  He has raised the question to his assistants..(not word for word)..did you out coach your counterpart from Alabama today?  The best coaches will coach at The Ohio State....Heads will roll my friends as you must lead by example. The best coaches coach the best players.. If not, the nice recruiting honeymoon we have enjoyed will end with a few token defensive players each year.  I believe Meyer is on a aggressive recruiting initiative...not only for players but for quality assistants that are in step with his directive....we shall see, we should hope.

Joe Beale's picture

Well, well, well....I guess the way to get a lot of comments on your story is to say something controversial. I didn't think it was controversial at the time, but life is full of little surprises. 

And I truly am surprised that my comments, modest as they were, generated so much criticism. But whatever. Most of the criticism centered around two things: my statement that the cornerbacks were "pretty solid" this season and that the defensive line was "a disappointment". Some others also took issue with my statement along the lines that Noah Spence had not "lived up to expectations". Let me explain.

First the cornerbacks. I actually don't think my statement on that is very difficult to defend. I didn't say they were great, just solid. As it turns out, Bradley Roby was named 1st team All-Big Ten on both the coaches and media teams, while Doran Grant was honorable mention on both teams. Roby was also one of the finalists for the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award. He lost out to Darqueze Dennard, but that's hardly something to be ashamed of, since Dennard is one of the best defenders in the nation. One commenter said that they didn't tackle well, but statistically Roby was 3rd on the team in tackles, and had more unassisted tackles than anyone on the team not named Shazier. And this is despite the fact that he was suspended for three games. Doran Grant finished tied for 4th in tackles. I did mention that Roby had some blown coverages, but those were mostly against Wisconsin and (to a lesser extent) Northwestern. I attribute that to rust. After those games, Roby cleaned it up nicely and played extremely well the rest of the season. He was probably our defensive MVP against Sparty. As for Grant, I think he quietly had a great season; I say quietly because we hardly ever heard his name called. QBs seemed to prefer attacking Roby, which I would consider a pretty good compliment. Considering all of this, I don't think "solid" is inappropriate.

Regarding the defensive line, you'll notice that I did not say they were bad. In fact, I said that they "shined at times" (specifically, during the 3-game stretch of Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois). But I am disappointed, because I expected more. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington played extensively last season, and showed great promise. I really thought those guys would be dominant. While it is true that Washington was hurt, and then he lost his job to Joey Bosa, it is also true that he would have won it back if he had played better. I did stipulate that Bosa and Michael Bennett were "outstanding", and in fact I wrote a story about that after the Northwestern game. So my beef is not with those two. I did say that Noah Spence had not live up to expectations, but that is because I expected him to dominate, especially in the area of rushing the passer. Someone quoted his stats, and they look good in isolation. But consider this: while it is true that he had eight sacks on the season, he had only a total of one in the team's five closest games (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State). By contrast, Bosa had 3.5 in that span, while Bennett had three. Against our three toughest opponents (Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State), Spence had zero sacks. Overall, the defensive line had only three sacks against Michigan and one against Michigan State, despite the fact that those two teams collectively threw 85 passes. What that means is that in 89 pass attempts, we sacked them four times; that's one sack for every 22 attempts. Am I disappointed with that? Yes, and I hope you are too.

Some have pointed out that the lack of coverage meant that the opposing quarterbacks got the ball off too quickly for the line to get there. I agree in part, but I would argue that most of the coverage problems had to do with either bad safety play or bad scheming. Regardless, many of the passes completed were deep balls, and this is not possible unless the QB has a lot of time to throw the ball. I think when you see Ross's breakdown of the MSU game tomorrow (which I have already seen), you will agree.    

So you see, I'm not really crazy after all. As for what I'm smoking (reference to TMAC's comment), tonight it was a Diesel Hair of the Dog. ;)

Furious George 27's picture

Of course couldn't I also say poor coverage and the fact that rolling the pocket hitting short to intermediate passes also led to the decline in sacks? If a guy is wide open from the start there is not much hesitation from the QB to get him the ball. Also being 3rd and 4th with tackles is not a good thing for a CB because that means they were giving up catches and not knocking the ball away which leads me to say how many times did you see the defender not looking for the ball and getting called for PI? It was definitely way too much. Saying they were "Solid" is still a huge disappointment seeing as how they were supposed to be one of the best in the B1G. You can neutralize a pass rush with rolling the QB or 3 second drop... That is why when you get a sack its referred to as a coverage sack in which I cannot think of any OSU had this year.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Joe Beale's picture

seeing as how they were supposed to be one of the best in the B1G

I think they WERE one of the best in the B1G, and the accolades reflect that. Regarding your other comments, how many times did UM roll out Gardner, out of the 48 attempted pass plays (not counting his scramble runs)? How many roll-outs did MSU have out of their 41 attempted passes? I don't remember very many. And no, there were not a lot of coverage sacks because the secondary receivers (backs, tight ends) were always open due to poor coverage discipline on the part of (mostly) linebackers and safeties (see Ross's breakdown of the UM game and his defensive breakdown of the MSU game later today).

Furious George 27's picture

Out of 41 attempts he was sacked once and hurried 8 times... So pressure was applied nearly 1 of every 4 attempts. You can say not a lot of roll outs etc... but having just 5 means that that is 5 less opportunities to get the QB as well. Sure you could Knock the LBs and Safeties on coverage, but how did that make you right in saying the D-Line was not as good because those teams you used to knock them exploited that weakness? I wasn't saying they rolled out every single time but enough to not just stand in the pocket every single pass and the 1 roll out you should remember was the wide open TD and I believe the 1st TD was a roll out as well. I am just saying that an unproven unit was more sold than a secondary that was supposed to be proven. You can say Roby and Grant were solid, but 1 bad play here or there often let to a TD.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Joe Beale's picture

If a team is rolling out their quarterback and then throwing deep down the field for explosive plays, then you need to find a way to get pressure on his roll-out. In a sense, he's actually more endangered on a roll-out than he is in the pocket, because he's going outside of his protection. So unless they're rolling the pocket along with him, which I don't remember seeing from any of our opponents this season, then the quarterback is exposed on the roll-out and you need to have someone ready to destroy him when he emerges from the pocket.

RedStorm45's picture

How dare you provide us free content!
I think, as you noted below, there is a difference between critiquing players and critiquing coaches.  Some of it is also subjective of what "expectations" were.

TMac's picture

A well reasoned Defense - what do you know about coaching D and schemes?!?!

ONE Not Done!

teddyballgame's picture

Surprising read about the defensive line.  Could they be better? I'm sure.
If the rest of the defense just performed to the level of the line though, we'd be in the championship game with a really good shot at picking up some crystal.   Those other areas are so painfully deficient though it's a wash.

mobboss1984's picture

I personally think the defensive line has been pretty good this year. To say Noah Spence hasn't lived up to expectations wouldn't be accurate. If Bosa isn't in the quarterbacks face, it's usually Spence. He has balled out this year along with Bosa. Bennett has been solid and Adolphus has been descent. He isn't fully healthy, and when he becomes healthy.........Get out of his way! The secondary is awful! Shazier is one of the best linebackers in the country, Perry is solid, Grant was ok, Roby got burned alot this year (not all his fault). Safeties were terrible, but flashed at times, and Vonn Bell should've played a little more. JMO! I'm ot Urban so I don't know everything, but Just a small piece of what I think. I'm not a professional! 

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

OldColumbusTown's picture

I'm puzzled as well about the disappointment with the D-line comment.  However, I agree with the CB's statement.
I don't know if people are mixing up the safeties with the CB's or what, but the issue all year with the pass coverage has been safeties getting caught sleeping, or just getting picked on in general in the passing game. 
Roby struggled in the Wisconsin game, yes.  He missed one or two plays against NW, yes.  Otherwise, he's been as good as anyone could have hoped, IMO.  Grant was solid all year, and even spectacular at times.  He had 2 or 3 really bad plays against MSU, and that is all anyone will remember.  Burrows was effective in his short time on the field.  Tyvis Powell was extremely solid in coverage all year.  Armani Reeves was the sore spot here, but he also played the toughest position in the secondary.  There is a reason Roby plays the spot he does, so Reeves coming in to spell Roby is not an easy task.  Other than that, I don't see what the issues are that people are referencing in regards to the CB's. 
The safeties have been soft in coverage all year, beginning with some issues against Buffalo, not diagnosing the screens against Cal, and on and on.

Joe Beale's picture

BTW, keep in mind that this post is primarily a scrutiny of the coaches, not the players. In my view, a player not playing up to his potential is a coaching issue.

TMac's picture

Scheme, Scheme, Scheme. Is it just me, or did we play a slightly different version every week? You mentioned Spence not playing up to expectations, and I get that, but I didn't get dropping your (arguably) best pass rusher into coverage on a regular basis, and blitz a LB/DB in his place....which as you said is more about the coaches. 
Replacing all 4 starters and being the strength of our one loss defense, I thought the D-Line did a great job, and I'm excited to see what they do to opposing offenses starting January 3rd.

ONE Not Done!