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
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
”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
”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
There are hints that there might be personnel changes, possibly
getting more time for Powell or freshman Vonn Bell in the
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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