Buckeyes seek answers on defense as Clemson looms

Asked after a recent Ohio State practice if he was concerned

about Clemson’s passing attack in the Orange Bowl, coach Urban

Meyer all but laughed out loud.

”Oh, yeah,” he said, shaking his head. ”You think?”

With two weeks left until the Buckeyes take on the Tigers in the

Orange Bowl, Meyer knows that his defense has to get better. A lot

better. And soon.

Clemson has one of the best passing games in the nation, with

Tajh Boyd in control at quarterback and Sammy Watkins snagging

receptions downfield.

The 12th-ranked Tigers (10-2) average 502 total yards, 329

through the air, and 40.2 points per game. Boyd is tied for 15th in

major-college history with 102 touchdown passes. Watkins has 85

catches for 1,237 yards and 10 TDs this season.

Granted, No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) has a potent offense of its

own, with Braxton Miller chewing up yards with his arm and legs and

bruising tailback Carlos Hyde breaking big plays on the ground.

But there are troubling signs over the last month or so that the

Buckeyes cannot stop even lesser passers from piling up

stratospheric numbers.

”They have a lot of good athletes,” All-American linebacker

Ryan Shazier said of the Tigers. ”This might be the best passing

team we’re going to face this whole season.”

If that’s true, then it’s no wonder that a lot of Buckeyes fans

are more than a little queasy.

Callers to sports talk shows, letters to the editor and those

posting on booster websites are calling for co-defensive

coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers to either be fired or

demoted for what’s happened lately.

In the last four games – relatively easy wins over Illinois and

Indiana, a one-point victory at Michigan and a crippling 34-24 loss

to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game – the average

per game passing line for the opposition is: 31 of 48 for 341 yards

and three touchdowns.

Michigan’s Devin Gardner, suffering through an otherwise erratic

season, hit on 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and four scores. His

2-point conversion pass in the final minute was intercepted by

Tyvis Powell at the goal line to preserve the Ohio State

victory.

”Pass defense surfaced again and (we had a) lack of contact on

the quarterback,” Meyer said after that rivalry game. ”We just

had some guys running open.”

Then with the Buckeyes riding a school-record 24-game winning

streak and needing a win to lock up a berth against Florida State

in the BCS national championship game, Michigan State’s Connor Cook

went off. He came in averaging 177 yards and 1.4 touchdown passes

per game. Against the Buckeyes, he threw for a career-best 304

yards and three TDs.

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett believes there’s

plenty of blame to go around in the defensive huddle.

”Guys have to cover on the back end, but we can’t let the

quarterback sit back in the pocket for 5 or 6 seconds because

someone’s going to get open,” he said. ”When stuff like that

falls apart, it’s the whole team thing – it’s not (just) on the

back end. The front guys have to do more and the back guys have to

do more. It’s not a scheme issue; it’s just guys need to do their

jobs better.”

There are hints that there might be personnel changes, possibly

getting more time for Powell or freshman Vonn Bell in the

secondary.

Meyer declared that the defensive coaches are tweaking things.

But that might be a mammoth understatement.

At the same time he made it clear it wasn’t just one problem

area on defense.

”It’s too many, (not just) one thing,” he said. ”It’s not man

coverage, it’s not zone coverage. It’s all of the above. Then, the

pass rush, the timing to call the blitzes and making sure the

blitzes match the coverage.

”We just have to play better.”

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