Silver Bullets Needed as Solution for Defensive Woes

By Kyle Rowland on January 5, 2014 at 9:15a
Jamal Marcus made himself known in the Orange Bowl.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Braxton Miller may or may not be returning to Ohio State for his senior season. Regardless, until the Buckeyes’ defense of old returns, national championships will be difficult to obtain.

In the present day of offenses that can score at will, it takes a similar unit to keep pace and a defense that can contain, not stop, the opposition. The offensive product Urban Meyer and Tom Herman put on the field this past season was national-championship caliber. The defense was offensive.

A 40-35 loss in the Orange Bowl that included 576 yards of offense for the Clemson Tigers was the latest blundering performance for the Silver Bullets.

Once 12-0 and a single win from the national championship game, Ohio State finished 12-2 and possibly outside the top 10 of the final rankings. It’s well outside the top 10 in several defensive statistics – 111th in pass defense and 47th in total defense.

“Is it what we expect? No, we expect a top 10 defense at Ohio State,” Meyer said.

With more than a month to prepare for Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, the Buckeyes couldn’t come close to slowing down the dynamic duo. Sure, there were injuries and a suspension to overcome, but the replacements actually provided encouraging returns.

Jamal Marcus finished with six tackles and a pass breakup in place of star defensive end Noah Spence, whose three-game suspension ends in mid-September. A pass deflection of Boyd in the first half led to an interception by Vonn Bell. He too was receiving his most significant playing time.

Bell was beaten badly by Watkins on a first-half touchdown, but ended the game with a solid first outing. He recorded seven tackles and an interception while asserting himself as a player to watch in 2014. Linebacker Joshua Perry had a game-high 10 tackles and a sack, offering hope he can offset the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL. 

“Those guys fought for every single one of those seniors,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “They had a great week of practice and were excited to play. I think we found some guys that we know are going to be really good players in the future.”

Still, Boyd totaled more than 500 yards of offense, completing 30 of 39 passes, and Watkins hauled in 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Time and again, Buckeye defenders found themselves out of position.

“Whenever you have a guy that has that much vertical speed, it creates a cushion and then you just keep flipping those bubbles to him,” Meyer said. “That’s tough to defend. Obviously, we didn’t do a good job, but I don’t want to take anything away. I don’t know all the receivers in the country, but I can't imagine any better than that guy.”

The offseason begins with a search to replace Everett Withers. He held the important title of co-defensive coordinators/safeties coach, and Meyer said the new assistant will likely have the same responsibilities. Meyer also said it needs to be a “home run” hire. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks as the final stretch of recruiting season heats up.

The light shining on Fickell might burn even brighter than the uber-competitive recruiting cycle. His popularity has waned during each defensive breakdown-filled game. On Friday night, with a busted whiteboard steps away in the Ohio State locker room, Fickell acknowledged the vast defensive deficiencies that defined his unit throughout the 14-game odyssey.

“When adversity hits, you have to stop the bleeding, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing when you look at this team and this defense,” he said. “I would say we’re good enough to do those things. When adversity hit, when something happened, our offense had bailed us out so many times all year. When something hits, the defense has to go make a play.”

The Buckeyes did exactly that, despite the Tigers’ 40 points and gaudy stats. Twice – once in the first half and again late in the fourth quarter – Boyd was harassed into throwing critical interceptions. But the stats still show 1,153 yards passing and 12 touchdowns for opposing quarterbacks over the final three games of the season.

Fickell said it starts with playing a more aggressive brand of football. For years, Ohio State hit opponents in the mouth. It started with the linebacker corps, but that unit has gone by the wayside since James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman departed following the 2008 season. Joey Bosa and Co. are poised to bring that swagger back. 

The inability to make adequate adjustments during the season at several areas with holes added to the Buckeyes’ woes, snowballing into an avalanche of despair.

“As you get through the season, you really don't ever get a chance to take a deep breath," Fickell said. “This will be the time now. We have to go back and evaluate and try to figure out the way that we can improve and get better and give our guys a much better chance to be successful and our team a chance to be successful.”

It’s the difference between playing in the Orange Bowl and appearing in the four-team playoff. 


Comments Show All Comments

Ethos's picture

For the last time bell did not get burned he was supposed to have help over top. Bell played correctly his teammate fucked him over. 

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Bucks777's picture

100% correct..., if you are going to write something make sure you know the facts, Bell was suppose to have help over the top, so he never got burned, he did his job assignment perfectly.

BenArazi4's picture

I was about to post the exact same thing then I saw this comment Lol.  It could have been a zone and it COULD have been Bell's man, I would have to go back and watch it but regardless the nickelback or LB is absolutely supposed to slow him down and knock him off his route even if it is a zone.  I'm assuming you have watched the play over but either way, some of the responsibility does lie with Bell but it is absolutely not fair to pin all the blame on him because if it was man, the nickel got burned and Bell didn't provide the needed help over the top.




Bucks777's picture

Once again even our most talented and experienced DB's was not on his assignment on this play, and that goes to coaching, something is terribly wrong.

Bucks777's picture

Simply put National Championship caliber teams, simply do not make these types of mistakes in crucial ball games. 

Bamabucknut's picture

“Is it what we expect? No, we expect a top 10 defense at Ohio State,” Meyer said.
The time for words.The time for posturing .Is over.
People have to acknowledge ownership and responsibility.
Urban Meyer said there are three areas that could be the source of the problem:
1)personnel-------> all the coaches,and how the players develop
2)coaching of the players--------->    Luke Fickell
3)Tactics/scheme used in the games---------> Luke Fickell
Players that don't perform don't get to play.Only the best do.
Does that standard apply to coaches who don't perform ?
"We have to go back and evaluate and try to figure out the way that we can improve and get better and give our guys a much better chance to be successful and our team a chance to be successful.” said Luke Fickell.
At this level of football....coaches are expected to KNOW.TO HAVE A VISION.Mark Diantonio has a vision.He knows how to scheme his defense.Current leadership doesn't.

buckeyedude's picture

Isn't Coach Coombs the DBs coach? Why is his name not mentioned? Just curious. I mean, he just came from coaching a high school team, for Pete's sake. And the DBs were the weakest link on the 2013 OSU D. Personally, I don't think he's the man for the job.
If UFM is going to evaluate his assistant coaches, I believe the magnifying glass should be on Coach Coombs as well as Fickell.



SOF_Buckeye's picture

While I agree Coombs must be looked at closely, he is the CB coach, while Withers was the Safety's coach, as well as coDC. It could be argued that he (Coombs) is operating under the schemes employed by Withers/Fickell, technique and competence of the CBs still hasn't been up to prior standards. 
As for his coaching, he was a longtime HS coach in Cincinnati (Colerain, I think), he most recently coached at UC. He also oversees the special teams.

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

GH_Lindsey's picture

I was talking about Coombs with a few Cinci fans over on r/cfb and the soft zone we run (and the habit of getting torched against any decent passing offense) was a trademark of his time at UC. 

Jbucks's picture

agree completely!! too many people get into a fit of rage at Luke (Myself included) & rightfully so; Could it be schematics of Lukes playcalling (corner blitzes)? of course! could it be that the CB's arent taught how to play coverage properly? of course!! watch the games & ppl should see the DB's out of position, waiting for their man to catch it before they react; & thats not Fick thats Coombs, he isnt a developer of talent hes a motivator, & last time I checked we already have Marriotti in the weight room, we need a teacher not a damn motivational speaker, developing these kids, Reeves, Apple, Burrows, Grant should all be ready to go next year... they wont be with Coombs saying "ataboy" all the time instead of telling them what they need to do in situations to correct problems.

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

45has2's picture

The pizza delivery boy has many relatives and coworkers on this site.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

Canukbuck's picture

Not completely on board with your evaluation of responsibilities:

  1. Personnel - agreed.  Recruitment is the key.
  2. Player Development - incorrect.  Players are developed by their position coaches, not coordinators.  The weakest part of our defense has been the secondary, which falls on Coombs and Whithers, not Luke.  The LB's have been patchwork, due to injury, for most of the season.
  3. System - Developed by the Coordinators (Luke and Whithers), installed by the Position Coaches and Coordinators.  Both Whithers and Fickell are responsible for the game plan, not just Luke.  Game adjustments are in the same category.

Luke Fickell is dealing with a defensive coaching staff that was handed to him by the Head Coach, so in essence, the ultimate responsibility falls on Urban to make the decisions on his staff, not Luke.   Luke played an aggressive type of defense when he was a player and was brought up coaching with the Silver Bullet mentality, so I find it interesting that everyone thinks he would willingly give up that aggressive nature once Urban showed up. 
Going to be an interesting off-season .....

Bamabucknut's picture


Actorjonnyb's picture

exactly - sick of this nonsense talk from Fickel. Stop what bleeding? Our D sucked at full strength against 1-11 Cal. Get a top notch coordinator and DB coach for gods sake! This is OSU!


Canukbuck's picture

So, that would be Coach Meyer then, right ??

Canukbuck's picture

Frankly speaking, I think a good part of the problem solved itself when Withers went to Madison ....

Bucks777's picture

How do we fix it:
Simple get National Championship caliber DB's/safety coaches and a defensive coordinator that is the same, can adjust on the fly and he prepares his players and they know what their assignment s are backward and forward , inside and out.  However, you will need to spend the money to get one of these, which I am sure Ohio State has.  However, will they continue to use the current coaches in place, to save money, and cost us valuable years of training the defensive side of the football?? 
If they choose to hold onto our current defense coaches, because they pay Meyer so much money and can't afford it, it becomes a business decision.  Look no further than Lake Erie to see what happens when you get greedy business people involved.
No, I am not saying we will become the Cleveland Browns, but please do us the favor and show us (Buckeye fans) that your not going to go that route; and pay for a great one (defensive coordinator), so that we can make a run at a Natty!!!

Ericgobucks's picture

Your post is makes no sense. Keeping defensive coaches, especially Fickell has nothing to do with saving money. Most people believe that Meyer was basically told to retain Fickell and there is and was pressure to keep him because of the transition and the hole he filled after Tressel was pushed out. Fickell makes 600,000 K, which is higher than any other assistant coaches, includeing Tom Herman who is a rising star. Look, Meyer didn't get "stupid" about defensive coaches when he got to Ohio State. He's navigating a political minefield in regard to the administration's loyalty to Luke Fickell. It's obvious that loyalty is wearing thin and like Withers, Fickell will be told to take another job because they won't embarrass him publicly by firing him. 

allinosu's picture

Not sold yet on the rising star bit.

Bucks777's picture

Clemson has a top 3 Defensive coordinator and it shows.
Could you imagine their defensive coordinator with our talented guys on defense!  WOW

kmp10's picture

It seems coach Meyer has changed. I find it hard to believe, had his defensive staff / team performed in consecutive years at BG/Utah/Fla the way the Ohio State defense has performed, that he would have allowed his coordinator to return for a third season. Maybe it's the kinder/gentler Meyer. The one who signed a family contract promising moderation.  I love Urban Meyer being the coach here and I wouldn't trade him... but this defense is a failure and he's got ultimate responsibility to see that it's changed for the better. Its time to make major philosophical and schematic changes on defense. 

buckeyedude's picture

Fickell said it starts with playing a more aggressive brand of football.

This is the smartest, best and most obvious thing that Fickell has said in a year.



Actorjonnyb's picture

and that starts with a consistant 12 yd cushion every play? A vanilla blitzing scheme that the opposing qb figures out immediately? Jeez


tennesseebuckeye11's picture

I appreciate the fact that you seem to be trying to give Fickell a chance to explain himself and even make it seem like it might not be his fault.  But come on man!  We have watched this team with above average talent get torched by below average teams, regularly.  (Cal, Nebraska, Indiana, in 2012 and Cal, Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan St. and  Clemson in 2013)  This isn't a case of "We need to get better"  You can see the talent we have, there are moments these guys make some good individual plays, and we always put guys in the NFL.  After 2 years of this I think we can safely say it's the coaching, not the talent.  I think we need to coach the guys up to be the Defense they should be.  And Bell was supposed to have help

buckeye70's picture

Since the bubble screen has worked against us time and time again, why not overload against it?  Put 4 defenders  up against the usual three or three defenders up against the two offensive players.  Very simple solution, just take away the offensive scheme by putting more defenders across from that part of the formation.  


The atmosphere in College Park will be crazy because at lease 40 % on the stadium will be Buckeye fans. Go Bucks

ScarletNGrey01's picture

A shame Roby wasn't able to play, one big defensive play may have been the difference.  But, the future looks bright and I'm confident Meyer will address the defensive deficiencies. 

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

BuckeyeStrong2's picture

Hopefully all of these changes wait until after NSD to start happening...


BuckAlum09's picture

Did Pryor's defense make TP look better than he really was? Follow up... If Brax had Pryor's defense are we playing tomorrow night?
Our Defense simply did not have Braxton's back this season. Braxton did have his struggles and continues to highlight his weaknesses... I think our coaching staff does him and our team a favor by putting him at an Athlete position next year to show the Pros what he can do and develop a new young QB. Wild Cat, Options, Play action passes go to Braxton. Then let JT or Cardale work with Brax in the backfield to show what he can do in space as a RB or flex receiver.
Just possibilities in order to promote Brax to the NFL Scouts and to develop the next generation Buckeye QB. Look to the future and give Braxton the chance he deserves.

"...and when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of booze. And we'll drink to old Ohio till we wobble in our shoes."

tussey's picture

Here's the deal, most of Clemson's offense is predicated on the quick pass out to the flats.  You can coach a kid until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day the players have to execute.  We couldn't get off any blocks on the outside, which set them up favorably the for 2nd and 3rd down.  When we won first down, it seemed like we were going to have a pretty good chance holding them on third.

cuttyrock's picture

Honestly what I would like to see but it probably will not happen is to make Luke Fickell d line coach and make Vrabel co-dc and lb coach. Vrabel is a think tank who called a lot of the plays on those Pats and Chiefs defense. I trust him calling plays. We should just hire a safeties coach but Vrabel deserves a raise. The d line gave us a chance but the back seven was horrendous. Coombs is not without blame because cb are terrible. D Grant and Reeves played better but I've never seen cb who can't shed a block on a wr screen. They wait to see which way he goes and try to get off the block. Your suppose to attack the screen and never let the blocker get his hands on you. It also helps if you force him back inside on bubble screens where the defense should be pursing. The cb and star must trust the safety and lb on that side to prevent pump and go's and to flow to the ball.

D. Anthony's picture

look at the picture at the top of this page...Clemson's players all looked bigger and stronger than almost every position except running back. Those boys were bigger, stronger and fast!

D. Anthony

Furious George 27's picture

If they were bigger, stronger and faster they wouldn't have squeaked out a 5 point win, winning the turnover battle by 2. I would say Sammy Watkins fit the bill.... The biggest issue was lack of in game adjustments by the D. As for the picture above, an OL typically outweighs the DL.... A typical DE weighs about 240-250. They were no bigger, stronger or faster than OSU. The biggest difference was their defense was slightly less crappy than ours.

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

Eph97's picture

The Silver Bullets designation is a badge of honor for an Ohio State defense and should not be mentioned in any sentence with this sad sack bunch we have. As for Coombs, one certainly wonders why if he were any good Kelly didn't take him with him to ND.

buckeyemike 45's picture

why don't we cover the wide out screen better? the throw back pass to the tight end...
time to ditch the soft zone, press the wide outs, change up the blitz package..more pressure on the qb
we need to quit playing zone. we get lost to much...
thoughts on the nickel:do we need to play a corner or a safety as the extra man. seems we are always chasing people...