The Buckeyes have allowed the fourth fewest passing yards per game so far this season. They haven’t allowed a 20-yard pass through three games. Granted, those numbers have been propped up by playing Navy and their triple-option attack and an anemic Kent State team, but things are trending positively for the Ohio State secondary.
Oftentimes, however, perception is reality and the pass defense at Ohio State is still perceived as a serious weakness after being exposed in their three biggest games of the 2013 season. Facing a Cincinnati team that tossed for 436 yards in their only contest this season means the Buckeyes secondary will get their first real chance at redemption on Sept. 27.
“For the secondary this is big because it’s the best quarterback with the best wide receiver group we will see all season, so this is the best chance that the pass defense has to prove (itself),” safety Tyvis Powell said.
“I’m just excited about playing the game, just to display to the world that the pass defense has improved.”
There were serious signs of that improvement against the Flashes. For all that was made of the offense getting off to a fast start against Kent State, the defense did the same. Ohio State forced a three-and-out on three of the Golden Flashes first five drives with the other two going for just five and six plays.
That was a big improvement over the first two weeks when Virginia Tech was five of five on third down conversions in the first quarter, scoring on two of their first three drives and Navy opened with drives of seven and 11 plays, one of which yielded a touchdown.
In both of those games it took the defense until halftime to make the proper adjustments that led to improved play.
After the VT game Powell said he wasn’t sure why the Buckeyes were struggling to make sideline adjustments in the first half, whether it was the youth of the team, the new scheme, or something else entirely it shouldn’t have been the challenge that it was.
“The film basically tells that when we play the assignments and do everything we are supposed to do correctly, we dominated,” he said. “We have to do that for four quarters, that’s all.
“In real time it’s not that hard because you can figure it out right then and there. If I made a mistake, I knew right then and there I made a mistake once the play was over. Plus, once I came off of the possession I had coach Ash tell me I made a mistake.”
Talent advantage aside, the Buckeyes needed no such pep talk against the Flashes, but success against a low-level MAC team does not equate to success against the Bearcats. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, the mind behind the revamped secondary, said after the Golden Flashes were sent packing that new coverages would be instilled for the Cincinnati game and Powell confirmed Wednesday that those were already being implemented.
Facing former five-star recruit Gunner Kiel and MeKale McKay, the quarterback's top target who hauled in nine balls for 175 yards in the Bearcats clinical passing performance against Toledo, necessitates the Buckeyes improve.
"We'll have to be a lot better,” Ash said minutes after the final whistle against the Flashes. “They're a good football team, good players. McKay, the wide receiver, was with us at Arkansas so I'm well aware of him, and Gunner Kiel was one of the nation's top QBs coming out of high school, so he's a great player. They have a lot of good players so it's going to be a challenge."
For now perception is reality for the Buckeyes pass defense, one still largely perceived as the same unit that might have cost them a shot at a national title a year ago. On Sept. 27 Ohio State will have an opportunity to change that perception to mirror what they see in their pass defense.
“This is what we live for! This is great,” Powell said. “We'll have a huge game of 7-on-7 but with a pass rush.
“I’m not shying away from it, I’m actually kind of excited about it. I’m ready to show the world the pass defense has improved. The coaching staff has worked very hard in the offseason to improve the pass defense and I’ve seen it in practice how far we’ve come from last year. I just want to go out there and show the world that we actually improved it.”