Overheard at the Sugar Bowl: OSU Defense

Luke Fickell, Joey Bosa and other Buckeyes talked about their matchup with Alabama and more Monday afternoon in New Orleans. He's a summary of all that was discussed as we clean out the reporter's notebook.

Michael Bennett

Asked about Alabama's ability to grind teams down late in games, Bennett said they just have to take the mentality that they are not going to let them do it. They have to be tougher than the Tide.

While winning the Big Ten Championship Game did remove some pressure on them from one standpoint, there is always pressure in every game. That was significant because they hadn't won a Big Ten title since he got to Ohio State, and this game is significant because it's the first year of the College Football Playoff and it is power programs Ohio State and Alabama facing off. Also they are going into this playing their best, so that is huge.

Asked about the psychological things Urban Meyer does with the team, Bennett said it's not necessary for the coach to play games with them anymore because they trust each other. When he first got here, Meyer had to earn their respect and get to know the members of the team though.

How much they win by doesn't matter. A win is a win even if film will show you who the better team really is. He likes that's how college football is, that it is about who is better on a given night.

His production improved after he started trusting his teammates more. He knew they would take care of their business so he could go about doing his and not worry about them.

He hopes to see Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer stick around their schools for a while so they can Duke it out, and he thinks they are going to provide a lot of fun for the press.

Doran Grant

The Ohio State cornerback called this the biggest game in the history of college football because it is part of the first playoff and features major programs Ohio State and Alabama. Someone pointed out Oregon-FSU is getting a lot of hype as a matchup of two great quarterbacks, but Grant seemed unmoved.

Jim Harbaugh seems like a good move for the Big Ten. He'll get his team ready to play, but Ohio State will be fine.

In talking about stopping Amari Cooper, someone brought up Sammy Watkins and Clemson last year, but Grant said this is a different Ohio State team. The Buckeyes are better defensively now, and the biggest reason is togetherness. This is the closest of the four OSU teams he has played on, and a team can go to a new level when guys are playing for each other like this one is. He also said the new personnel and the new scheme are equally important in terms of how the defense has improved.

Vonn Bell will be a very important player in this game, and he has seen the sophomore safety grow since last year.

Asked about Johnny Dixon, he said the freshman receiver impressed him right away with his speed and quickness as well as his competitiveness. The coaching staff puts guys in position to prove themselves early, and he did that.

Jeff Greene is very athletic and can stretch the field as a scout team receiver for the Buckeyes right now.

Joey Bosa

Asked if his game has evolved this year, he said the whole defensive line has.

Teams scheme to stop him, but that's OK with him because it creates other opportunities for guys like Mike Bennett and Adolphus Washington. Rashad Frazier has battled a lot of injuries this year, but Bosa is happy to see him get an opportunity to contribute.

Asked about Jim Harbaugh coaching Michigan, he said it's exciting to him even if some Ohio State fans might not like it. The rivalry needs both teams to be good. He will turn the Wolverines around.

He expects to play a lot. Rotation is nice, but they need their best guys out there on the field. Playing 80 plays is tough on the body, but if he can just get a quick breather he's OK.

He's a laidback guy and stays pretty chill off the field but turns up the intensity when it is game time.

Bosa grew up playing baseball and didn't take football all that seriously until his sophomore year in high school. Nick Saban offered him a scholarship at a camp before he had played a snap of varsity football, leading Bosa to joke he wonders if Saban can predict the future. The offer was shocking.

He ended up far exceeding his own expectations for his freshman year at Ohio State, and he thinks he needs another year in college. He's not ready for the NFL. He feels he has made a huge leap from last year and thinks he can do the same thing between now and next year. When he looks at film of last year, he thinks he was awful then.

Curtis Grant

Recruiting has raised the competition in every meeting room because this coaching staff brings in guys who should be ready to play right away. That pushes the older guys to get better.

He's definitely tired of hearing about how great the SEC is. It's just a conferences. Success is determined by how you prepare.

Grant knew Darron Lee would be good, but he didn't expect him to go crazy like he did this season. Lee is great because he has no conscience. He just goes out there and makes things happen. Lee is very cocky, but he's cool about it so he doesn't rub people the wrong way. He's still cool to be around.

Alabama has two great running backs and a good offensive line. They have to build a wall to stop that running game, and the challenge is different with Alabama from Wisconsin because the Crimson Tide are so much more balanced. Alabama has three big weapons in Cooper, the running backs and quarterback Blake Sims.

If you don't pay attention to Meyer, you'll think he's crazy, but he is just doing things to motivate guys. Meyer doesn't want them to be average. He wants everyone to be at his best.


Urban Meyer makes it tough on people to work with him, but that is how you get better. It teaches that you can't be satisfied with where you are even when you are successful. Fickell feels fortunate to have worked for three Hall of Fame coaches in his career. Meyer's methods can be frustrating, but that is not a bad thing.

Regarding Darron Lee, Fickell said recruiting is an educated guess. It's kind of like going to Vegas, and there's a reason they keep the casinos open. The casinos are hard to beat. Playing at Ohio State was very important for Lee, and he proved that by showing up at three camps to compete for a spot. That was a good indicator of his heart and desire.

Asked if Michigan hiring Jim Harbaugh caused them to have a talk today about recruiting, Fickell said they already talk about recruiting strategies every day. This is no different. They have the way they do things, and they want to force people to match their pace. That said, they do need to know how the opposition is going to operate so they can have answers for it.

There are different ways to coach, but all of them are about bringing in the right guys and getting them to support each other and produce.

Alabama has a diverse offense that is hard to match up with. They are able to do a lot within each position group, which makes them harder to prepare for.

Doran Grant has had a better year this year than last year because of experience and confidence. There is no substitute for confidence. Also sometimes it makes a difference when you are the man. Losing Ryan Shazier was a net positive because it forced everyone else to raise their game rather than just watch how good he was while wishing they could be on his level. It was the same thing with Bradley Roby. Now Grant is the older guy who realized he is being watched so he needs to set a good example.

Joshua Perry

The OSU linebacker said Alabama's offensive line is big and aggressive. You can't try to overpower them but have to be smart in how you attack.

Personnel recognition is better for Ohio State this year, and it is good to have this break since the Big Ten title game to learn all the different groupings Alabama has and what they do within them.

Quarterback Blake Sims is really good. He throws the ball well and can make plays with his feet. He knows what he's doing in their offense, and they have to be ready to stop him from hurting them running.

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