Defense Wants More Guys On Ground

Tackling is a skill that's hard to teach, but one thing that seems clear through three games is that the Ohio State defense has been inconsistent at it in 2012. Getting guys on the ground was a focus this week in OSU practice, and the lessons have been about getting to the ball carrier and then what to do upon arrival.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has talked about how difficult it is for a team to work on fundamentals during a season given how few practice days there are and how much time must be designated to game planning.

He might be about to find out just how true that is.

Ohio State gave up 512 yards of offense on Saturday vs. California, the most surrendered by an Ohio State team in seven years and the most ceded in the Horseshoe in more than a decade. Perhaps more alarming, a program that has prided itself on its ability to stop the run for the past century or so allowed 224 yards – 274 if sack yardage is taken out – on the ground against the Bears including a pair of long touchdown runs.

There might not be a magic bullet to fix the issue of yards given up on the ground – defensive coordinator Luke Fickell admitted as much on Monday – but one place to start is the team's tackling.

So, that's what Meyer had in store this week as the Buckeyes got back into the swing of things to prepare for Saturday's game with UAB.

"I know we tackled more than anybody, but obviously it's not getting the job done, so we have to tackle more," he said of preseason work. "Instead of one day a week, we'll probably have to go two now. It's all about fundamentals, technique."

Talking to the players after Wednesday practice, it's clear the Buckeye coaching staff lived up to that promise.

"We've definitely worked on a lot more tackling this week," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "We always work on it, but we made probably more of an emphasis this week. Hopefully it carries over to the game.

"Us linebackers, we've had almost two or three tackling periods for practice the past couple of days. I know every position group has done a lot of tackling. It's something that we're harping on."

Unfortunately for Ohio State, the tackling issue isn't one that just cropped up. A program that didn't allow a run longer than 42 yards from 2008-10 was gashed through throughout the 2011 season as well. Four OSU opponents topped 200 yards on the ground last year and players like Miami's Lamar Miller, three Penn State rushers and a pair of Michigan players all had runs of 38 yards or more.

A year ago, youth seemed like the major culprit. After a difficult offseason to say the least, Ohio State trotted out a lineup in 2011 that included a secondary that consisted entirely of first-year starters as well as a young linebacker corps in which only Andrew Sweat had a significant number of starts.

Many of those players are back this year, though, with a full year of experience under their belts, but there have still been big plays in the running game. Chief among them were the pair of touchdown runs – one 81 yards, the other 59 – by Cal back Brendan Bigelow on Saturday.

On the first, Bigelow escaped the tackle efforts of Nathan Williams, Orhian Johnson and Ryan Shazier, using a number of spectacular spin moves before motoring up the east sideline for the longest run by an OSU opponent in stadium history. On the second, Shazier overran the play then safety Christian Bryant flew by.

Now, tackling weren't the only issues, as our Marcus Hartman and Eleven Warriors' Ross Fulton have written this week about Ohio State not having enough players to the boundary in some schemes, including on the second long TD run by Bigelow. That's an issue Meyer referenced at his Monday press conference, and the head coach promised a tweak or two in that realm.

On the other long score, the 81-yarder, a couple of players also appeared to pull up after assuming their teammates would make the play, not anticipating Bigelow's spectacular run.

"I feel like it was tackling some of the time," Bryant said. "People were just taking for granted that somebody was already making play and everybody was not flying to the ball, but that's something like Coach Meyer said, he said we're going to work on tackling all this week. I guess that's something we do need to work on."

Fickell also mentioned the team's coaching of its players to try to strip the ball in an effort to cause more turnovers might be backfiring when it comes to tackling. In addition, the occasional poor angle to the football ends up making the tackle more difficult than it should be, and at times that has kept OSU from making the play.

"Going as fast as we possibly can from point A to point B, that is our mantra," Fickell said. "We're not going to take that away, but we still have to do that with a better understanding of where point B is. As hard as you go and as much energy as you have and as much emotion as you have, you still can't lose sight of the base fundamentals of what you do."

But all in all, if the Buckeyes had simply put a guy on the ground when they had the chance on Saturday, a lot more of the yardage simply would have disappeared from the stat sheet.

With that in mind, Tuesday and Wednesday were all about tackling.

"The thing about tackling is it's a basic part of the game," Shazier said. "Everybody should know how to tackle. We've just been too lazy, not wrapping up or we haven't just been finishing through. We've practiced more on tackling this week. We've just finished through. We wrap up and let everybody run to the ball so we don't have anybody break through practice today."


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