Bank Blog: Quick Thoughts Defense

The Ohio State defense totally dominated hapless Illinois Saturday in Columbus, and the final score of 52-22 isn't indicative of the performance by Luke Fickell's gang. Who stood out for the Buckeyes, other than every single defensive player in uniform?

- A look at the numbers tells the entire story defensively for Ohio State, although the "22" for Illinois is the one deceiving number. Illinois ran 65 offensive plays in the game and averaged only 2.7 yards per play, which is impressive. Want to know what's more impressive? The three longest gains for the Illini were plays of 10, 11 and 12 yards. Third down conversions were 2 for 12. Illinois averaged a whopping 3-yards per pass attempt, which is nearly impossible.

- Tim Beckman brought his Toledo team into Columbus last year, and gave Ohio State fits by attacking the Buckeyes on the edges with screens and short passes. There was a school of thought he might be able to exploit the Buckeyes in the same fashion today, but that school was closed. There was nothing Beckman could do offensively, and he only scored two touchdowns on mistakes by Rod Smith and Kenny Guiton. This was a pimp-hand slap by the Ohio State defense.

- Ohio State was credited with exactly ZERO sacks in the game, which is another misleading stat because Nathan Scheelhaase was under the gun all day long. The Buckeyes mixed coverages and alternated blitz packages, in totally confusing the Illini QB. Credit Mike Vrabel for turning the defensive linemen loose, and liberally rotating players in and out all game. This was the second week in a row Ohio State kept fresh linemen in the game, and they wore the Illini offense out. Hard to single out individual players in this group, because about ten of them played, and impressed.

- One defensive lineman that does need mentioned is Nathan Williams, and although he committed two undisciplined penalties, he is a game-changer for this defense. He is probably the one defender that cannot be out of the game, and Ohio State is a far worse defense without #43. When he missed time with his knee injury, it absolutely killed this defense. Others on this unit are excellent players, but Nathan Williams is the one that cannot be replaced. He plays the run, rushes the passer, and can be effective in pass coverage, and nobody else on this defense can do all that from his position. Safe to say that Ohio State has gotten more out of Williams this season than anyone could have imagined.

- When Ryan Shazier signed with Ohio State, I kept saying he would be the type of linebacker the Buckeyes haven't had in a long time. The speed and burst are just at another level from guys like Ross Homan, Marcus Freeman, Andrew Sweat, Brian Rolle, James Laurinaitis and other excellent linebackers the Buckeyes have started. Until the past two weeks, that speed and burst has been impressive for highlight-reel plays........ for BOTH teams. Against Penn State and again this week against Illinois, Shazier played totally disciplined football, under complete control. I always felt he would be an All-American at Ohio State, and the last two weeks is exactly what I expected out of Ryan. He has finally learned how to control his speed, and that is part of the maturation process. It's the best part of freshmen becoming sophomores, and sophomores becoming juniors. No substitute for experience, and Ryan is growing.

- C.J. Barnett is playing just like, well, C.J. Barnett, and what a time to get it back together. His coverage is 10X better and he's just not missing any tackles at all. Christian Bryant is getting better and better as well, and when these two play the way they should, all the sudden Coach Withers and Coach Fickell look a lot smarter. The CB's have been excellent for the past month, and Travis Howard and Bradley Roby have both elevated their games.

- Zach Boren remains somewhat of a liability in pass coverage, but there is no questioning what he brings to this defense. Even with Etienne Sabino returning, there is still a place for Boren in this defense. Instincts are so huge in playing the linebacker position, and what Zach lacks in speed he more than makes up for in awareness. They need him on the field defensively, and he has had a big impact in the improvement by this side of the ball.

- I do think Luke Fickell has done an excellent job in the past few weeks, and I don't think for a second it has a thing to do with him "finding his legs", or "learning the job", or "being yelled at by Urban." He IS a better coach today for a few reasons. As this defense gets healthier, he looks smarter. As these safeties play at a higher level, he looks brighter. As Boren helped stabilize the linebacker play, he looks wiser, As Shazier has gone from wild-man to playmaker, he looks calmer. As the freshmen become contributors on the defensive line, he looks positively devilish. When this unit wasn't playing well, that was absolutely on Luke Fickell and nobody else. Now that they are playing well, and that is his responsibility, he deserves the props. It may have taken this long for this defensive staff to mesh from a philosophical perspective, but Vrabel, Coombs, Withers and especially Fickell, deserve major ups. Of course, they need two more big performances.

- Another plus for Ohio State playing better defensively is how it impacts recruiting. Were these coaches to continue giving up 40-50 points per game, Meyer would have had no choice but to make changes, but I don't see that happening now. From a recruiting standpoint, that's really a positive, because these four guys are the strongest recruiters on the staff. It's in Ohio State's best long-term interest for these guys to continue coaching well, because there is no questioning their recruiting abilities.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories