When it comes to college football, Phil Steele is an oracle and an encyclopedia brimming with facts and figures.
So when he says Ohio State’s pass defense will be better next season, he means it.
“Frankly in my mind, despite the fact they have just one returning starter on (the pass) defense, they’ve got guys that have started games back there, they’ve got a lot of talent back there,” Steele told Eleven Warriors in a recent interview.
“They’ve got a little bit new of a defensive system bringing in (co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach) Chris Ash from Arkansas, will run a little bit more press.
“I think the secondary will be one of the more improved secondaries in the country and that’s why I didn’t put it on my question mark list, even though they were poor last year and lost three starters.”
The Buckeyes, which lost Bradley Roby, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, finished 112th nationally in pass defense in 2013 and surrendered nearly 700 yards through the air in devastating, back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson.
On the cusp of a national title berth, the unit was Ohio State’s undoing after a 24-game winning streak under the direction of coach Urban Meyer.
“We hit a speed bump,” he said while addressing a crowd of boosters in March.
But truth be told, the pass defense was an inherent defect the Buckeyes covered up last season. They medicated it with a talented defensive line that stifled the run and an explosive offense that simply kept most games out of reach.
Truth also be told, the talent was there, especially in former defensive backs Roby, Bryant and Barnett.
Steele said Ohio State should’ve been better.
“I think they underachieved a little bit,” he said.
“I think you go back to Ohio State’s secondary last year, you had a player like Bradley Roby coming back and you just assumed Ohio State will have one of the top secondaries in the country.
“Frankly, I think Roby had his mind a little bit on the NFL, I don’t think we saw Bradley Roby at his best last year in a lot of games. That was a big factor.”
Plus, faced with the option of either running the ball against the likes of Noah Spence, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett or going over top of them, teams trended toward attacking the Buckeyes through the air despite what, on paper, was supposed to be a strength too.
“I’ll go back to (Kansas State coach) Bill Snyder. He had a great preseason comment prior to last year. His entire offensive line was back and they had just had a phenomenal season. I said, so coach, that’s a strength? He goes, ‘You know what, as long as the players don’t think they’ve achieved everything, as long as they continue to work, we’ll have a good offensive line.' But it was still a question mark in his head.”
The Buckeyes floundered last year to the point where Meyer vowed an offseason "overhaul" in addition to hiring Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson to help remedy the problem.
"When people come to the games now and what do they talk about? Ohio State's offense," sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said after the team's Spring Game in April.
"Back in the day, it was about the defense. 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.”
They've got a little more than a month to see if that'll actually work.