Around the internet, people immediately started to say that the Buckeyes hadn’t made progress from a year ago – that the 110th-rated pass defense of a year ago was masquerading this time around under a new look.
But are things truly the same as they were a year ago under the new press quarters scheme put together by co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash? BSB editor Jeff Svoboda says no, and here are five reasons why you shouldn’t be that worried about the pass defense for the rest of the season, starting with OSU’s game Saturday against Maryland.
1. It’s an identity: There’s no two ways around it – the pass defense was just a disaster last year.
It was at its worst late in the season when Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson combined to throw for nearly 400 yards per game, but to be honest it was bad for most of the season. The Buckeyes arguably didn’t play the right personnel and were never on the same page when it came to scheme or communication, resulting in breakdowns all over the field.
"I don't think we function very well in isolation,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said during the offseason. “And so one of the things that (head coach Urban) Meyer and I talked about almost immediately after the season was installation of pass coverage, concepts and communication, having one voice. And that that would be very important to everybody in the back end.
"What I would tell you is that Chris and I are going to function as a team in the back end. We will have one voice. We both may be saying it but we'll be saying the same thing so that when we meet together, when we coach together, when we're practicing together, we're all using the same terms, the same phrases, the same words, coaching things … and I think that's very important."
That was just one of many comments during the offseason in which OSU coaches and players admitted the back seven wasn’t on the same page a season ago. Here’s another from safety Tyvis Powell, who was Ohio State’s nickel back a season ago.
“I can’t remember what game it was, we had a huge meeting with Coach Coombs and he presented us with the stats like the short passes are just killing us,” Powell said. “I don’t know why, but after he presented that fact to us, everybody still played conservative, not aggressive, so I don’t know what that was about. I don’t know what mentality we had, but now I know that it’s definitely more aggressive.”
In other words, the defense didn’t have an identity last year, didn’t have something it could point to as something it truly believed in as a unit. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
This time around, the team is married to its press-quarters, aggressive scheme. The Buckeyes aren’t going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is the scheme and everyone believes in it, which is the first step toward success.
“I feel we’re systemic now,” Meyer said prior to the Cincinnati game. “Last year we had errors and we would change week to week to fix what was a weakness. We have a system. I like our system right now. I believe in it.”
2. The Buckeyes did stop UC at other times: As pointed out by our Marcus Hartman, one thing that the Buckeyes can cling to from the UC game is that other than the long passes, Ohio State did stop the Bearcats for the most part.
In fact, the Buckeyes gave up 131 yards on Cincinnati’s other 30 passes, held UC to 4 of 11 on third down and allowed just 47 yards of offense on the Bearcats’ last four drives.
Now, of course, you can’t take away the three big gainers that ended in the paint of the end zone. But you can also recognize that the other 30 snaps were won by OSU, something that often couldn’t be said a year ago. The Buckeyes were beaten short, long and any way you can get beaten last year; this year, the mistakes seem to be isolated incidents.
“We were concerned about their passing game going in, but you take away three plays – which you can't – we played the rest of them pretty decent,” Ash said. “Now we have to get the three we gave up fixed. We can't allow that, we're not going to allow that, it's not acceptable.”
3. The players like it: Not that this needs to be of paramount importance, but it is nice for the players to be in a scheme they believe in.
“Those kids read the papers and all those kind of things, too, and people are calling you soft,” Coombs said. “Who wants to be called soft? Our players have responded very well to that.
“It’s aggressive. Kids like to be aggressive. Coaches like to be aggressive. It doesn’t come without risks. I like that style of play. It energizes me. It energizes our players. They look forward to that.”
And it stands to reason that the players will embrace something they enjoy playing, which is the case with the press quarters scheme.
“Now that you go out there and you see people making more plays on quick, short stuff, you’re more confident in the game plan that the coaches know exactly what they’re doing,” Powell said.
4. It’ll get better: When Powell was asked after the Virginia Tech game – the first the team really got to test its press quarters scheme, which led to some high-profile breakdowns – about the scheme, he had a quick answer.
“Oh yeah, every game is going to come,” Powell said with enthusiasm. “It’s new out there. We have been doing it since the spring but it is rather new to us.”
Simply put, it takes time to put together a totally new mind-set and scheme. It’s just not gonna happen overnight, but the Buckeyes should get better at pass defense as the season goes on.
In addition, the coaches will get better calling it, too. For example, the touchdown late in the first half against UC was a mistake in both play call and execution that one can expect will get cleaned up as the season goes.
“I had a couple of things that I would have expected differently,” said Meyer, who said the Buckeyes were at least sticking to their identity. “The one before the half I expected different. We left the middle of the field open. That's something I need to get involved in, too, and give my two cents. I don't call defenses, but I'm a game manager. That's what my job is, and I should have had more input in that. I want to say there's 40 seconds left (in the half) or something like that in that situation.”
5. The offense will be good enough anyway: Ohio State’s attack is rounding into form, having scored 66 points against Kent State and set a school record for first downs while putting up 50 points vs. Cincinnati.
Ohio State will face better defenses as the year goes on, but with the offensive line maturing, J.T. Barrett getting more comfortable and the skill positions getting better, the Buckeyes won’t have to totally shut down foes. A bad play or two in each game won’t kill the Buckeyes in the long run.