In the wake of Ohio State’s loss to Oregon, Ryan Day said “structural changes” are imminent for the Buckeye defense.
That statement caused many to ponder what true modifications the Buckeyes could make to their defensive scheme midseason, but junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson said Wednesday that they’re already trying some out in practice.
“We haven’t had a better practice than today all year – offensively – I would say. They’re trying to learn new things on the defensive side, so that comes with a learning curve,” Wilson said. “The energy and just the attention to detail the last two days, I feel like it hasn’t been like that since camp started. We knew we had some problems, but whenever you lose, it magnifies them all. There’s no room for messing up at practice anymore. If there was before, there’s none at all now.”
Wilson said he doesn’t think the resolve has changed much from player to player on defense – a group that gave up 35 points and 505 total yards this past weekend – citing that the unit has always brought the requisite intensity to the table. However, it seems that the group is playing around with some new elements as the Buckeyes hope to show improvement against Tulsa on Saturday.
“They bring it every day. They got some new things they’re working on, and I’ll leave it at that,” Wilson said. “My teammates, they come out there and get to work every day on defense, offensive side, both sides.”
No defensive players were available at Wednesday’s round of interviews at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said after the Oregon game that he was responsible for Ohio State's defensive deficiencies. Wilson said the Buckeye offense should share a portion of the blame as well, and said Ohio State left plenty of points and yards on the field, even after racking up 612 in the game.
“You can say what you want about defense, but we had two chances to tie the game up, and if we do what we do on the first drive, take the lead after they got those two stops – three drives, really, if you count the last drive,” Wilson said. “We don’t feel like we did enough on the offensive side. We want to control what we can control, and that’s putting points on the board every drive.”
Nicholas Petit-Frere was asked more than once Wednesday how he’s seen his defensive teammates respond to the loss, but like Wilson, the redshirt junior offensive lineman said the shift has come both offense and defense over the past four days.
“We’re hungry. This was a learning experience for a lot of us, because it hasn’t happened in a while here,” Petit-Frere said. “So coach Day took it in stride and said it’s a learning opportunity for all of us – coaches to players, everyone – for us to learn what we did wrong and how to improve and to fix the mistakes that we made so we can become a better team. There’s just been a great hunger with all the players on both sides of the ball, and we’re just hungry and ready to compete again.”
Petit-Frere said Wednesday’s practice, which Wilson called the best the team has had all year, was a “great competition day,” citing an increased level of “energy and juice” possessed on both offense and defense.
What Ohio State’s starting left tackle said has changed the most since the loss, though, is the Buckeyes’ commitment to the fine points of preparation.
“We just learned a lot about doing the small things right,” Petit-Frere said. “A lot about the details in practice, the details when it comes to the things you wouldn't even think about, like how we stretch, the way we walk into a practice, the way we walk into a huddle, the way we do anything. All those small little details are things that we’ve done for so many years here, that’s why we’ve won, and when you lose track of some of those small details, things like this can happen. So we’re getting back to the basics, we’re making sure we do all the small details right, correcting all the small mistakes and never taking anything for granted.”
The early-season loss may have been a wake up call for the Buckeyes in many respects, but Wilson won’t go as far as to call it a blessing in disguise.
“I hate losing, so it’s not no blessing to me, ever,” Wilson said. “I hate talking about it, I hate losing. You gotta use it though. You can’t just have it as a loss and not use it to get better or realize what the problems were and really address them now.”