How Ohio State's 'Power of the Unit' Mantra Fell Apart Last Season

By Patrick Maks on July 30, 2014 at 1:05p
The 'Power of the Unit' is a big deal at Ohio State. But it fell short last season.

CHICAGO – There are three things, Urban Meyer says, that make up the foundation of his Ohio State football team.

The first is what he calls “competitive excellence.” The second is a tireless mantra of “point A to B, 4 to 6 seconds.” The third, and perhaps biggest pillar, is the “power of the unit.”

Meyer, who’s about to plunge into his third year of guiding the Buckeyes, sounds like a broken record when he talking about all of this. 

But it's with purpose and even more so after his team’s late postseason collapse after winning 24-straight games in two years. It's a reminder as much as it's a mission statement.

“We operate under the unit principle,” Meyer said Monday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “And it's the power of the unit. Nine units.”

Nine units that work toward one goal.

But it curiously backfired last season.

“I think last year we got caught up in the whole nine units thing,” Michael Bennett said Tuesday.

“Instead of taking it as ‘we need to make our unit stronger’ it was ‘that unit’s not as strong as our unit so I don’t wanna hear from that unit’ or something like that. That’s just human error that comes out of a really good idea.”

Its effects were ultimately devastating for an Ohio State team that finished 2013 with back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

In the wreckage were shattered dreams of a Big Ten title and its first national championship berth in six years.

The biggest culprit was a defense that simply got eviscerated in pass coverage. It was defective from the start and only got worse.

Inevitably, it caused friction, or what Meyer referred to as a cancerous “blame, complain, defend” culture last spring. An overhaul was needed, he said. The status-quo was no longer acceptable. The onus fell on defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and new-hire Chris Ash to find a cure.

“Coach Fickell changed his viewpoint and he said, ‘I’m not gonna blame anybody anymore, it’s gonna be the defense and the defense is together,’” Bennett said.

“I know the whole nine units thing but the defense is one unit. All of the defensive coaches have just come together and said we’re not fighting each other anymore. If there’s a run up through the middle, the linebackers aren’t going to come up to the D-line and cuss them out.

“They’re gonna take it on themselves and the D-line is gonna take it on themselves and the safeties are gonna take it on themselves for not filling. It’s everybody’s fault when the plays break down.”

Everybody. Coaches and players.

“Teams have really started adopting a fast-paced offense so when everyone’s looking over to the sideline to try and get a call, you got dummy calls going, then someone’s going to look at the wrong person, someone’s not going to get that whole call,” Bennett said.

“If I’m running over to my D-Line to tell them what the call is in a packed stadium three seconds before the ball’s snapped, it just gets lost in translation and then we’re literally putting our hands on the ground and trying to figure out what’s going on. And then the back end, if they’re not on cue with us and our stunts, it’s just gonna fall apart.

Broken plays cost Ohio State at chance at a national championship and a chance to finish what it calls “The Chase,” a buzzword for the program’s hunt for a return to college football glory.  

This year, Bennett said, will be different. It has to be, right? 

"Our pass defense, we completely blew it up. It’s gone. Anything associated with that has completely changed and it had to change," Meyer said.

For the Buckeyes to get to where they want to be, there's no other choice.  

"I just think that this year, we still have the nine-unit mentality,” Bennett said. “But we have the nine units working together.”

Because last season, nine units worked against each other.


Comments Show All Comments

WC Buckeye's picture

There really is only one unit that matters at the end of the day. The football unit. All of the position training sessions and psychology take a back seat to that at some stage.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

The LBs are the center of the defensive unit which encourages me as Urban pegged it as a strength of the team.

buckeyedude's picture

As the defense goes, so goes the 2014 Buckeye football team. I have very high expectations.



+1 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

As the offensive line goes, so goes the 2014 Buckeye football team. 

+6 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Music to my eyes...

There have been some stellar individual performances the past couple of seasons, and I'm in no way dismissive of them. But I sure like the sound of recognizing the importance of positional units working together. 

Easy to see looking back at last year - offensive line, defensive line, quarterbacks (there's no argument against the value of an effective backup qb here) - team concept, units working together.

Thirty-one days...

+1 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

You mean no more blame Fickel pages?

+8 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

It means building up.  It means turning the page.

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

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

Fickell has never been the problem. Hell, the man still holds the consecutive starts record at 50, doesn't he? I can tell you this for sure though: Fickell played his ass off so hard as a Buckeye as their NG that he came into the pros beat up so much that his body couldn't take it anymore. He bleeds more scarlet and gray than ANY member of the Buckeyes Football Program and has practically given his entire life to The Ohio State University. Fickell should be praised and honored by Buckeye Nation. Besides, never in his career has he been Ohio State's Defensive Coordinator. In 2011 he took a stab in the back to try his best when nothing could really be done with that team which was doomed before it started. Someone had to be the scapegoat/head coach and Fickell stood up, took the job that paid just under $1M and did his best to have a team to be proud of, get the magnifying glass off and if anyone blames themselves for Ohio State having their first non-winning season since 1999 it is Luke Fickell. The man lives and dies for Buckeye Football. If it matters, and it probably doesn't to most of you, Luke Fickell's pay of just under $1M for coaching the 2011 Buckeyes is a pittance when Urban Meyer's annual salary (which is mostly non-disclosed) should be between $7M-$9M for 2012 and 2013...and should go up a bit each season if the number crunchers keep crunching.

Ohio State has used Luke Fickell. When Withers was co-DC he was also the SECONDARY coach AND ASSISTANT HEAD COACH. So see, Fickell had a boss that coached on the defensive side of the ball ahead of him. Now Larry Johnson is coaching the DL. Guess what else is in his job title? ASSISTANT HEAD COACH! During the Tressel years, Fick was the co-DC behind Heacock. Now, during the Meyer years, Fickell still has not been the defensive coordinator as he has had both Withers and now Johnson ahead of him.

Fickell isn't the problem...the crybabies are.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+15 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Please understand, I'm not on or off the Fire Fickell Bandwagon.  The way I see it, there is entirely too much at stake for the likes of Tressel and Meyer, to keep someone on staff just because they bleed Scarlet and Grey.  He is clearly competent in both of their minds to be on staff, so that's good enough for me.

But let me play devil's advocate on the second part of your statement, and please understand, I'm not bashing anything you said, as I think it's a great defense of Fickell, and like I said, I'm not a Fire Fickell guy.  Do you think that there is something to the fact that he hasn't been the sole DC, or had a Co-DC who was also an Asst. HC?  Like Tressel or Meyer didn't see enough in Fickell to give him the title of DC without the Co?

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+4 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

Tress did peg him as the interim when he was still just looking at a suspension, it's possible neither Bollman or Heacock wanted it but at least Fick stepped up to the plate.

Slingin' swag since 1970


Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Always have been and always will be a huge Luke fan!  He is simply an awesome Buckeye!

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

+1 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

Some like to say his devotion is great but not a reason to keep him. That's only true when times are good but if the shit ever hits the fan again the rest would cut and run to greener pastures, but not him... OSU means more than just a job to Fick and THAT is irreplaceable.

Slingin' swag since 1970


+2 HS
Pa_snoborder's picture

^^^^^vote.  Everyone needs a scapegoat. 

One shall stand, One shall fall. -Optimus Prime

Toilrt Paper's picture

NO..... blame Withers and Vrabel. Why do you think they're gone? Withers was in charge of the DBs, nuff said. And Vrabel refused to rotate his D-linemen, which is what Urban wanted. Which ended up killing the D-line in the last 4 games. NOW they admit they were all dinged up and tired from playing so many snaps. This year the starters are all fine with and happy about 20-25%  fewer snaps. THE reason reason Johnson was hired away from Penn State. Johnson and Meyer think alike about rotating D-linemen, so they will be fresh in the 4th quarter of games and the last 25% of the season.

+4 HS

This is rather insightful... I know that the players they put forward to the media are coached-up to not discuss divisive matters that happen in the locker room (along with the unwritten rule to keep the locker room sacred), but the discord that must have been plaguing the team last year reminded me of the finger-pointing culture that was around when we lost to LSU in the national championship game, too.  Not blaming Fickell, but that's a culture issue.  Glad that they blew that all up, and that there is more focus of the unit as a whole - let's see how it grades out when the tests begin in real games.

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
buckeyepastor's picture

Wow.  This is eye-opening stuff.  It explains A LOT.  It explains (but in no way excuses) Luke Fickell last year telling the press that it really doesn't matter that the defense gave up a ton of yards and a ton of points in one of our games because the offense got a few points more, so everything's fine.   It explains the sense of confusion and poor communication that was evident so often with the defense.   It felt last year like Fickell tried to spin things and minimize the issues on the defense (the LB lack of depth, the fall off at safety after the injury to Bryant).   I can understand the players getting territorial and defensive about their units with this mentality.   I think if it happens that the coaches do it again, there need to be changes.    

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+2 HS

One of the befuddling things we will never know (since we were not in those meetings and practices) is that Urban started spending more time with the defensive teams toward the end of the year and the groups only got more exposed - so why?  Did the coordinators somehow convince Urban that nothing could be changed so late in the season?  Was Urban being somewhat ignored? So many questions that are being put behind us now that we keep reading and hearing of how improved and cohesive the new unit will be on D.

oh, to have been a fly on those walls...

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

A head coach can not berate his assistants in front of their players. It would be counter productive, if not destructive. It is IMPOSSIBLE to completely change the defensive scheme in the last 25% of the season. He could only do so much in meetings away from the players. It was too late in the season to make any drastic changes. Tweak the DB play some and it was too late to rotate D-lineman. The 2nd teamers were ignored for too long by Vrabel, they weren't ready to step up late in the year.. He took care of the 2 problems after the season.

+1 HS

While I don't disagree with your assessment much at all, are we to believe that other than to put more pressure on his defensive coaches and players by his mere presence, that he was just giving lip service to the media to satiate them long enough?  I could agree with this, too - it wouldn't be the first time that a coach or a leader has done this to lower the heat of the spotlight for many reasons (eg, recruiting, reputation, integrity of leadership, etc)... BUT I wasn't there... just saying that it would have been nice to see what really went down - results really being part of the history that it is.

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

German Buckeye's picture

if the Defense plays as a unit and to Silver Bullet standards, then I have to believe we'll win every single game this season, because our offense will MINALLY score 35 points per game, and probably alot more than that.  I see teams scoring single digits against us.  That's a recipe for a national championship.  30 days my friends......

+1 HS
Bamabucknut's picture

The defensive deficiencies  were  apparent to even the most casual football fan and very early. Certainly  our competition saw it, and those with the talent, exposed it for what it wasn't..Many set school records for yardage gained.

Why is it that L.. F.. still here when he  has to have someone come in and show him how to coach and play call with an aggressive back seven scheme ?

-2 HS
saltybuck61's picture

The linebackers played reasonably well last year. The run defense was top 10 in the country. Those are the two things that Luke Fickell was most responsible. The poor coverage seemed to stem from the coverages, which were called and coordinated by Everett Withers. The safeties were historically bad last year, and Pitt Brown was probably given too many chances. The safeties were coached by Everett Withers. Personally, I believe that the problem has been removed from the program. If Fickell truly was the problem, he would have been fired. If the defense isn't good this year, people will blame it on Fickell. If the defense is good, people will credit Ash. Regardless, a good defense would certainly make everyone happy, there is no doubt about that.

+1 HS
Ghbuck23's picture

I agree .. Perfectly well said

Win Baby , Win

bleedscarlet's picture

Noone complained about the scheme while OSU and USC were using it to put some of the best defenses in CFB on the field. No scheme in the world can fix bad tackling and poor coverage....

Slingin' swag since 1970


+1 HS
73buckeye's picture

All this stuff is important, but it seems to me like basic football errors were the reasons the Bucks fell short on defense last year. I saw a lot of tackles missed, failure to wrap, people out of position, seeming not to know their area of responsibility, relying too much on speed rather than good football technique, and apparently not knowing what the guys beside them were doing. All these things are remedied by good coaching. I didn't see much of that last year on the defensive side of the ball. Watch good defensive teams (i.e. Seattle Seahawks, MSU, past versions of the Silver Bullets). The overwhelm their opponents, but always seem to be in position. They are fast and athletic, but controlled in their aggression. Big plays by the opposition are few and far between. Slogans and psychology are nice, but I'll trade that for outstanding coaching and fundamentals and 11 guys on the field who refuse to be moved. I hope that's what we see this fall. 


+5 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

Last year the defensive scheme was WAY WAY to complicated. Real calls and fake calls being signaled in from the sidelines between plays for each group within the defense. Even against fast paced offenses. Too often the players were completely confused, for the most part they were worried about getting the signals right, which often kept them from playing fast and aggressively as a unit. Mike Bennett covered this in his latest interview.

This year the D has been significantly simplified. Allowing them to play fast from point A to point B in 4-6. 

+1 HS
Gametime's picture


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

+4 HS
jBarnes's picture

  ^ ^ +1 for the sarcasm font.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”  ― Douglas Adams  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

+1 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

Let me ask this question to fellow 11 warriors. If some how our defense was to regress and actually get worse would you be on board for a complete overhaul?If that would mean firing every single defensive coach and going from there? 

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

73buckeye's picture

With the apparent talent on this defense, a repeat of last year should result in a wholesale house cleaning. I gotta believe Urban would seriously question his own competence if that happens.


+2 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

There is NO WAY the 2 new coaches will be fired after one year. The absolute worst thing a head coach could do. The bad apples were gotten rid of last year.

+2 HS
DefendYoungstown's picture

People may not like this theory but in the B1G Championship game, I think the failure was due the lame looking Ohio State font in the endzone...

What we can't do in the air we'll do on the ground.

+2 HS
SaltyD0gg's picture

Can we call this article, "The Whole Nine Units"?

Pain of Discipline

Pain of Regret

Take Your Pick

+1 HS
Texasbucksfan's picture

WOW, Every time I hear this kid talk I am more and more impressed with him.   He is incredibly smart and a true leader.  Anyone on the defensive side of the ball who blames or complains this year will have to deal with him.   

Toilrt Paper's picture

AND at 6-2 290, has a black belt in one of the marshal arts.

bleedscarlet's picture

oi... not gonna do it... not.. ahh, screw it... martial even

Slingin' swag since 1970


+1 HS
DefendYoungstown's picture

But really, can we just say we played 2 teams that executed better than we did?  Maybe they were actually the better teams on the field those days.

What we can't do in the air we'll do on the ground.

+3 HS
UrbanCulture's picture

Yes they were the better team...but it was our fault that they were better 

BuckGnome's picture

Its impossible for the defense to attain the level of suck it reached last year. 

I'm relieved it was blown up, and encouraged that new schemes and philosophy will be utilized on that side of the ball.  There's no shortage of talent.

+2 HS
Maestro's picture

Sounds like a little bit of a cultural shift has/is taking place.  That can be powerful if everybody is pulling in the same direction with the new ideas/strategies.  I hope that is the case.

vacuuming sucks


It's simple. OSU is one machine with 9 different moving parts. One breaks down it stops the system. The pass defense broke down. We saw the result. My only worry is the pass defense getting fixed but something else breaking down. Don't want to think about it.

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

FROMTHE18's picture

Its simple really, punch 18-22 year olds in the face with a monumental task and add in a handful of over-belief (forgive me for the term), and they will assume everything they've done prior to then will work and its become natural. The RECORD-SETTING URBAN MEYER realises this and it'll all be sorted this year. As I said in a previous post, its nice not to worry about complacency and see the actual goal (a B1G title and a National title) in sight, rather than maintaining a winning streak. That type of mentality leads to a goal-oriented and a hungry team. Urban wants an angry team and by 'angry' I believe he means hungry. Hungry to get better and hungry to be the best. The losses, although upsetting, are just what this team needed to move forward to being DOMINANT. Deep breathes, Urban leads the way. 

+1 HS
PortlandBuckeye45's picture

You have to admit, It's not a bad thing we lost. It deff opened up the team's eyes. We went 12-0, the first year under Urb. We should of played in the NC game if not for sanctions. Then, we went 12-0 again under Urb. We were cocky, thought we were indestructable. Then, we lost back two back. The Clemson game was just silly mistakes and yes poor secondary coverage. MSU game, they were just more determined then us.

I fell like after all that, we will have that fire, that drive. We got knocked down. But we are still hungry, and now have something to prove.

-1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Can't wait to see it in action... Silver Bullets... Locked and Loaded!

+1 HS
FUqUespin's picture

Pretty enlightening article.