A Revamped Defense With a New Culture

By Kyle Rowland on June 27, 2014 at 8:30a

“What do you mean what went wrong? Did we win?”

That was Luke Fickell’s response last November when pressed about the defense’s performance after surrendering yards and touchdowns on what seemed like every possession against Michigan. You won’t hear Fickell sound off in a similar manner this season, because a leaky defense for a third consecutive year is unacceptable.

Urban Meyer’s made that clear. No coaches were dismissed in the offseason, but new hires Chris Ash and Larry Johnson send a message that the Buckeyes are focused on improving – and quickly. When evaluating his first two seasons as head coach, Meyer mentioned 24 straight wins and then “we hit a speed bump.”

More like a rockslide. After an historic offensive campaign, it was a sputtering defense that proved to be Ohio State’s undoing. Before the season began, all was good – the secondary was stockpiled with veterans, Ryan Shazier still tackled everything in sight and the defensive line had depth.

But beautiful paintings don’t always hold their value. 

“I felt like we were a ‘what-if’ defense last year,” Meyer said. “I saw it from our coaches, I saw it from our players.”

There’s no secret how Meyer wants his teams to play – angry and fearless. But he hasn’t seen that yet in Columbus. Quite the opposite, actually. At times, he’s seen paralysis by analysis, players performing tentatively to avoid making a mistake.

Issues on defense first arrived in 2012 when Ohio State allowed 49 points to Indiana. The Buckeyes finished the season undefeated and confidence soared. But the groundwork for defensive shortcomings was set quietly below the surface.

In the final two games last season – both losses – Ohio State gave up more than 1,000 yards and 74 points. Go back to the Michigan game and the Buckeyes allowed an additional 600 yards and 41 points.

Soon after the Orange Bowl ended, Meyer understood bigger changes loomed than the usual personnel comings and goings.

“I’ve got to make sure that we have a clarity of purpose, of culture here at Ohio State,” he said. “It’s not timid. It’s a very aggressive approach to everything we do.”

Ash and Johnson usher in a change, but also a return of the Silver Bullets. Wide receivers will feel uncomfortable with contact at the line of scrimmage. Press coverage is aimed at ridding the laundry list of weaknesses scattered about last season’s pass defense. Meanwhile, Johnson has developed a deep rotation of defensive linemen and cultivated the atmosphere among the group.

“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically, we’re going to have a philosophy,” Ash said. “We’re going to have a system, an identity about what we're doing. But really, it’s all about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.”

The objective isn’t just to re-store the Ohio State defense’s roar, it’s to place the Buckeyes among the perennial leaders nationally. Before the recent stumble, that level of play was commonplace. The tables have now turned to where offense is more prevalent and accepted.

“Back in the day, it was about the defense,” cornerback Tyvis Powell said. “So that’s what we’re trying to get theme to go back to. Let’s go to the game to see their defense, not the offense.”

Powell continued on, giving credence to everything Meyer said about fear. The junior said the backend of the defense played scared, which zapped the aggression and led to vulnerabilities.

Spring practice and the spring game brought on noticeable modifications. Not only did philosophies and schemes change, but also there was a vigor and energy that was absent in 2013.  

“That was the huge emphasis that I was trying to make on the secondary,” Powell said. “[Fans] really came to see what was talked about so bad in the media, about how bad the pass defense was. [The spring] was just a way to showcase that we improved and we were able to be aggressive.”

As if Ohio State’s defenders had any choice. Some coaches yelled, some were mild-mannered, but the points hammered on were simple enough – and the buy-in rate would have the SEC – not that SEC – suspicious.

“They’re not allowed to not buy into it to be perfectly honest with you. It’s not an option," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs bellowed. “It is the way it’s going to be.”

And the Silver Bullets are the way they’re going be – aggressive, hard-hitting and sound. It’s a throwback to recent times and to the 60s and onward.  


Comments Show All Comments

Tater_Schroeder's picture

The wink is creepy but I like it.


vwhiegs57's picture

The press coverage Ash is putting in is going to be the biggest difference maker!! I couldn't stand watching a WR catch a 5-10 yard curl then turn up field and there wasn't a Scarlet or White jeresey in the picture of my 70" TV screen!

+3 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Try being a Detroit Lions fan.  This has been their philosophy for years.  3rd and 4, ahh, lets play off 10 yards so we don't get beat deep.   3rd and goal from the 8, ehh, lets get our DBs on the back line of the end zone and keep them in front of us.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
InvertMyVeer's picture

Try being a Detroit Lions fan

No thanks, lol

Football is complicated...

+2 HS
Crimson's picture

Being a Lions fan isn't a choice.  :(

+2 HS
InvertMyVeer's picture

My parents are big Vikes fans so I grew up following the black and blue division closely, it never ceases to amaze me at the ways that the Lions snatch defeat from the jaws of victory lol

Football is complicated...

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

That is one of the best ways to put the Lions and their track record of being terrible I have ever seen.  Wish I could upvote more than once.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

It's terrible isn't it??

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I'll buy that for a dollar.

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!

+1 HS
jedkat's picture


"Can we please stop the message board fighting? I really can't stand the message board fighting..."

"No. You're an idiot, and your posts are terrible."

+13 HS
Boxley's picture

Well the last two games we played that I watched, our lack of ability to score lost us those games and kept giving the ball back to the other teams offense. Now their offense had little problem scoring, but to blame those two game losses on defense, nope. Where was our record setting offense those two games?

We scored 24 points each of the last two games , 21 points belpow our average, and had we scored our season average of points, we win both of those games. So lets NOT say the loss was due to the defense, but it clearly was due to the inability of the offense to outscore the opponent. TOP also demonstrates that issue.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

-7 HS
clint5507's picture

What was the last game you watched?  Because I watched a 40-35 loss to Clemson in which we gave up over 550 total yards...

+7 HS
Mortc15's picture

Not sure what game you watched. Osu scored 35 points against Clemson. 

Regardless, 35 and even 24 should be enough to win a game if you have a solid defense. The defense needed, and is getting, major improvements. 


+4 HS
Frostybuck88's picture

Completely disagree!  Offense was not the problem last year, or the year before, we set a school record for points in a season.  Quite simply our defensive scheme was soft, not aggressive.  It was painful to watch.  It was the flipside to watching our offense under Bollman!  I'll give Urban credit for making changes to the staff and emphasizing an aggressive change of scheme.  We have the athletes on defense, let em loose!

The Dude abides...

+3 HS
buckeyepastor's picture

I will grant that against MSU and Clemson, the offense was in a position, late, for a game-winning score and stalled out.   But MSU had an offense that was far from great and looked, I think, better than they really were against our defense.   Against Clemson, I think Sammy Watkins had the game of his life and our defense.   And I think it was an injured Miller throwing a late pick that sealed our fate against Clemson more than our defense (I anticipated a lot of points from Clemson).   But the truth is 1600 yards and 115 points over the final 3 games of the season is atrocious.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+1 HS
Furious George 27's picture

MSU was not an offensive juggernaut.... Purdue held them to 14 in East Lansing. 24 and 35 points should have been more than enough to win had OSU had a mediocre pass D. Blaming an offense because a D cannot stop anyone makes no sense.



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

+4 HS
Jpfbuck's picture

1) the same thing you say about the offense could be said for the defense in those last 2 games ie prior to those last 2 games we were averaging allowing only 20 points a game (that's including the UM game) so had our defense only allowed their season average in those last 2 games we would have won 24-20 and 35-20

2) btw we won TOP against Clemson 32:51 to 27:09, that is higher than we had typically done all year where on average we were 31:18 to 28:42 so against Clemson our D was actually on the field less than they typically were and had 3 weeks rest prior to the game

3) yes we lost TOP against MSU but after 3 quarters we were actually tied with MSU for TOP and had the lead

but our d let them dominated the last quarter as MSU racked up 174 yards on only 23 plays or 7.6 yards per play, we allowed them to complete nearly 70% of their 13 passes in the quarter at over 11 yards per completion as our offense only got the chance to run 12 total plays in the 4th quarter,,,all while our D gave up 13 plays in the quarter of 5 yards or longer and compounded it with Pass Interference

but sure it was an off day by the offense that against a top ranked D still put up 24 points and 374 yards against a D that normally gave up 12 fewer points and 102 fewer yards than that which caused us to lose, not the D that gave up 34 points and 438 yards to an offense that normally averaged 5 fewer points and 53 fewer yards. yep offenses fault

and since when has an OSU team ever thought that scoring 35 vs a highly ranked opponent wasn't enough for our D to handle

+1 HS
OSU_Football_is_Life's picture


A win over TTUN is one of the most important annual milestones I can think of!

+2 HS
rdubs's picture

I think turnovers cost us the Clemson game.  Between an INT and a dropped punt, two of the TDs we gave up came on 33 and 38 yard drives.  Sure the defense could have played better, but without the 4 TOs, they played well enough for us to win.

+2 HS
Gametime's picture

I get what Boxley is saying: essentially let's not overlook the fact that we had offensive liabilities also.

Sure our offense was a juggernaut pounding the rock, but ultimately, having WRs who can make that clutch 3rd/4th down grab & who can compete and beat elite corners from time to time; having Braxton advance in his passing that he learns to put touch on the ball and drop dimes on the regular, especially when guys are wide open, so they don't have to adjust or come back to the ball, etc.

We can't act like Michael Thomas was pissed for no reason, or that Tom Herman/Urban Meyer have made some questionable calls on offense, while also overusing Braxton as a runner.

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

+2 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

They'll play well. Bunch of talented guys with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. Gonna be a good season....

Slingin' swag since 1970


+4 HS
osu407's picture

I think we have the right athletes, and we have the right scheme, all we need is experience. 

+1 HS
Oyster's picture

The issue I see is this.  If there is improvement, will anyone place the blame on the pass defense where it belongs, on Withers and not Fickell?  I hope so.  And for all the Fickell critics, if he was so bad, why does he still have a job?  None of you can believe that Meyer has a sense of loyalty or obligation to the man.  Meyers only goal is to win, and if somebody or something is standing in the way of that goal, you are kidding yourself if you don't think he would immediately remove it.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+5 HS
Furious George 27's picture

So you are saying a Co-Defensive coordinater does not deserve some blame? Bottom line is he is paid a lot of money to produce a defensive scheme and it did not work and his "Did we win" rant did not help his cause either. I do think he is a very good recruiter and a good LB coach which is why he is still around. Considering that the scheme has changed and he has never coached anything but but a zone (not his fault, its what he's learned) Ash most likely has more input on the changes taking place. But you cannot say he does not deserve blame...Everyone does, minus Vrable.

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

+5 HS
Oyster's picture

Vrable can take some heat too.  He played that front line like the NFL (with their limited rosters) and really didn't rotate the guys as much as he could have.  Some fresh legs in the 4th qtr would have been nice for a pass rush.

As for the "Co", I have never been a fan of that.  It doesn't work.  There has to be one person in charge, one person who ultimately makes the final decision.  We can what if it and guess how things might have been if one or the other was making the final calls.  My guess is that Fickell would have gone aggressive (he was brought up that way) and Withers would have played it soft.  We will be able to get the answer perhaps when Withers team takes the field this fall.  How his defense lines up may give us the answer.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+5 HS
Furious George 27's picture

I agree not a fan of the "Co" coordinator thing, but with it, he takes some of the blame. I am not sure what he wanted to do, but I feel like if he wanted to he could have especially against Clemson w/ Withers leaving. He learned under Heacock and still runs the same D which had the soft coverage that hurt us in big games late. I don't think Fickel is a bad coach, but I think he was content with running the same defense. If you have the talent why not be agressive and use it. The keep it in front of you D is what you do if you don't have the talent and OSU does not lack talent.

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

+1 HS
Buckeye06's picture

I wish Vrabel or someone on the staff would fix the overpursuit our guys did over and over again the 2nd half of the season.  Our D-line never held the edge for reverses and throwback screens.

I just hope the D gets onto the same page this year

+2 HS
Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

Vrabel is coaching the Houston Texans.

+1 HS
m4's picture


read the article below carefully and you will have your answer as to who was responsible for the defense in 2012 and 2013. The article gives direct quotes from Coach Meyer.I posted this article in another thread, but a lot of people are in denial.

Fickell Will Call Plays On Defense, Meyer Says

Posted: Dec 14, 2011 7:51 AM CST
By Matt Barnes

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Former OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell will call the plays on defense for Ohio State's next season, says new Head Coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer told a Columbus radio station on Tuesday that Fickell either will be defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator but definitely will be the one calling the plays.

During the interview, Meyer praised Fickell as not just a great person and ambassador for the Buckeyes but also as a great coach.

Meyer also said interim North Carolina head coach Everett Withers is under consideration for a position on his staff but that nothing is official.

Withers spent three years as the defensive coordinator at UNC until being elevated to the interim job prior to the 2011 season.

Multiple sources, though, are reporting that Withers in fact will be a member of the staff but his official role is unclear.

Meyer contacted former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops about a position just days after his hire at OSU.

Last week, Meyer lured Tom Herman from Iowa State to fill the role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Current OSU assistants Stan Drayton and Taver Johnson are expected to be retained by Meyer.

For additional information, stay with NBC4 and refresh nbc4i.com.
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+1 HS
Blackbeards Delight's picture

I'm hoping they're not blanks this season.

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

- Me


BuckeyeinSavannah's picture

After my wife has our son in November, I'll be shooting blanks shortly thereafter. 

+7 HS
One Bad Buckeye's picture

Once again, really great article Kyle! Looking forward to a really nasty D really soon.  

But how are we supposed to read this with no pictures?

Edit: The photo took longer than normal to load.....carry on.  :)


"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

+1 HS
bucknut94's picture

I would like to see it in action.

BTBuckeye's picture

Talkin' bout practice!

Let's hope our secondary improves this year. Go bucks

+1 HS
CC's picture

This aint the game...

buckeyepastor's picture

One of these days, I'd like to hear what was said or went on behind closed doors after Fickell made that, "Hey, we won, didn't we?" remark.   That couldn't have gone over well.   Clearly there were serious issues and it was a reminder of all those games when Tressel's offensive coaches would shrug off concerns about only scoring 10 points against a team they were favored to beat by 30 because, "Hey, a win is a win."   The defense has become that tolerated weak link that the offense was so many times under Tressel.  This needs to change.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+9 HS
gm3jones's picture

That would of been a not so good kind of meeting, huh? I wonder if Urban was more of like "what the flub were you thinking? we gave up over 500 yards to TTUN!" or if he was like you will speak from these pre-approved cards-- take them with you whereever you go and use the appropriate one for the occasion. Either way, if would of not been a good meeting, that is for sure.

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

+1 HS
CC's picture

I was thinking the same thing.  I'd also like to know the real story about Vrabel and Withers.  I know nothing more than I've read online but I know enough to know there is probably more to the story.

+1 HS
woodcocklives@osu's picture

Your comparison is hyperbolic and not based in fact.  The ineptitude of the defense in 2013 in no way compares to the JT era offense, but spin it as you'd like.  If we want to talk comparisons, maybe SOS between the 2 eras would be a better starting point, and would likely better explain the "surprsing" end to the 2013 season..

-3 HS
TobyMagic's picture

My concern lays within the LB room.. So much uncertainty with that group. Loads of young unproven talent. Best case they blow up like our D-Line did (weakness into strength); worst case we're scouring the roster for someone who can get it done (Boren 2012).

+2 HS
theopulas's picture

Coach Meyer was going to hire Coach Johnson....period.....Their is always a James Madison out their. Coach Meyer envisions a shut down defense and he is hiring the coaches that brings that...you get the best guys that runs your style...this is a great coach whose legend is about to blow-up...


+1 HS
mobboss1984's picture

Defense will be much better this year. The last two games hurt, but we will be better. Hopefully our offense can continue their success. I would love to go back to the days where our defense hardly gave the opponents anything. Not over 500 yards 3 times in a row.

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

+1 HS
BrutusBuck21's picture

Press coverage for the win. If our defense can even be in the top ten this year I think we have a shot.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people."
The great all knowing Hayes.

+4 HS
Hovenaut's picture

I cannot wait for press coverage.

There will be some hiccups, but once confidences are up - combined with the talent coming in - look out.

Time for Ohio State to return to defensive prominence.

+1 HS
ChazBuckeye's picture

I just had to put my two cents in about this clamoring I see above about the offense. Kyle tried to set it straight with his article and facts as far as history and stats are concerned. Now to the ones blaming the offense, I have to ask one question. Did the offense have their worst season for scoring points ever? Because that's the equivalent to what the defense did. You can't win games if your defense can't stop the other team's offense. I actually threw up a little in my mouth reading how the offense failed to score or convert. So against MSU, that 4th and 2 that didn't convert lost the game? When the defense gave up a 21-0 score to start the game...and the "all of a sudden suspect offense" made a helluva come back. Please ppl, OSU's defense was the worst pass defense in school history last year. Stop defending a defenseless argument. ...for real.
I have to give you a "Common man!"

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.

+1 HS
ibuck's picture

C'mon. The folks arguing the O needs work too are not denying the D was bad.

But the D does not give up points when the O keeps getting 1st downs, keeping the ball away from the opponent. Did the O do that during gthe last 2.5 games? Arguing that OSU scored record points last season—against worse defenses than in the BTCG and Orange Bowl—doesn't alter the fact that Ohio State scored fewer points than their opponents in the last 2 games. One's scoring average means nothing if you're not making the plays to keep the ball away from the opponent.

It was a combination of things that caused those losses: offense, defense, special teams, coaching, etc. We should all be looking for improvement in all areas in 2014. On O, better pass routes, better passes, better catches, better blocking, better play calls. On D, better pass coverage, better tackling, better speed to the ball. On play calls, confuse the opponent and don't let them tee off on Miller. On ST and everywhere, better blocking, no turnovers, no penalties. 

Oh, and in championship games, get used to the idea that the opponent has some talent on both sides of the ball and can score points. Because otherwise, they wouldn't be there. Sometimes you just have to outscore them.

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.

36buck's picture

The last 3 years on D have been historically bad.  Look at how many points we gave each year over JTs 10 years compared to the last 3.  We've been more like Indiana on D lately.  It HAS to get much better.   Fsu would have scored 70 on us last year. 

This team will go only as far as the D takes it 

+2 HS
MuraliPatel's picture

Yes the last 3 years have been historically bad, but to say that the entirety of JT's 10 years we played outstanding defense is something of a stretch.

In my humble opinion the last TRULY dominant defense we fielded, first snap to last snap, was the 2002 defense. We had a great defense in 2003; without a few key mental lapses in Madison and against Michigan, that one could have been really great too. 2005 was also great minus a few moments. Over the latter half of Tressel's career, I think our defensive metrics were greatly skewed by the fact that we played atrocious offenses. I mean, really, really bad putrid ones. Now, for certain games, such as the Rose Bowl against Oregon and the 1st half of the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, we had truly exceptional game plans. but, as a whole, no, none of those defenses in my mind were truly great.

I would love for nothing more than a defensive renaissance to happen this year in the 'Shoe, but, honestly, I think it's going to take more than one year and two new coaches to do so... its almost as if something is in these guy's heads, and frankly, it scares me.


EDIT: On a tangentially related note - every single time Stanford takes down Oregon and an ESPN commentator gives credit to David Shaw & staff for a singularly visionary gameplan against the Ducks, I see red and think of that Rose Bowl.


+1 HS
allinosu's picture

You could be right but I think we have the athletes to turn it around this year.

buckeyeradar's picture

It's time to kick ass!  My house or yours!  

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

airbuckeye's picture

Savana been there done that nothing to it. But when i had it done i keep pulling the sheet down so i could see and the Doc keep putting it back up then ask why i wanted to watch. I said if you say Oppppppps i want know why lol. Then after the took them out and they look the noddles in Mac Cheese they really do LOL.

I ask if i could have them and he said the have to tested for something or other so i said fine can i have after their done testing them. He ask me why i would want them and i told my now X wife thought she was having me newdered when i wanted it as well. I said well since she is feeling all proud and puffy im getting in the last laugh. I told i wanted to get earrings made out of them and give them to her not tell. At least not untill she at worn them a few time for people to see.

And yes before anyone say i have sick twisted mind oh well i have always been that way just the way my mind works at times.