Defensive Notebook: Screens, Third Downs Hurt OSU

Ohio State's signature defense was confounded by Northwestern's array of screen passes and draw plays. Here, the Buckeyes discuss what went wrong in the team's 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern.

For much of the last two-plus years, Ohio State's defense has held the line against some talented offensive opponents.

But on Saturday night at Evanston, the Ohio State defense was riddled by Northwestern's spread attack.

The Wildcats converted 12 of 20 third downs in the game. OSU surrendered 166 yards rushing and 278 passing (444 total).

"They did a good job and had a good plan," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They hit us with some screens. They executed. Sometimes as an offense you can stay a step ahead of the defense. For a period, they were doing that."

The defense was led by outside linebacker A.J. Hawk (14 tackles), safety Donte Whitner (12 tackles) and outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter (10 tackles, one interception).

"We're disappointed," Carpenter admitted. "We had high expectations coming into this game and for the rest of the season.

"They had a good offensive scheme. They threw the ball well. They knew what we were going to do. Sometimes they were ahead of us a little bit. But it's something you have to overcome. You have to make plays to stop them.

"We were prepared for the game. I don't know what it was. It was a big game for them – a night game with a packed house. They just played better than we did."

Where the Buckeyes have been strong tacklers and lethal on third down, Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez became too tough to handle at times with his passing and running (six carries, 53 yards).

"They were playing fast and we were missing some tackles," Carpenter said. "We usually don't do that. That may have been the difference. We didn't stop them on third down and they were able to sustain some drives.

"On third down, we have to get off the field. They were able to find the open seam and find the open hole in our defense. We didn't really get pressure on the quarterback. They were executing well."

Northwestern (2-3) had been blown out by Minnesota 43-17 a week prior. Carpenter said OSU did not take NU for granted, however.

"We really didn't watch a whole lot of the Minnesota tape for that reason," he said. "They're a good team. They executed well. I'm sure they had this game circled on their schedule for a long time. It was a prime time game and they had a good crowd.

"Any given week you can lose to any given team. This is definitely a letdown for us. They are a better team than their record shows. I think they'll have a pretty good season."

Carpenter said the Buckeyes did the best they could to pull it out.

"We believe we can win every game until the clock says 0:00," he said. "We did a good job to come back and tie it. But we didn't get the job done in overtime."

Carpenter believes the Buckeyes will rebound from this defeat.

"You see how good your team is with how you bounce back from a loss," he said. "We'll prepare hard this week and come out fighting against Wisconsin. We should be excited to play them. There should be a revenge factor, I guess, coming into play there. We'll see what happens."

Salley Says

OSU safety Nate Salley made his first career interception in the loss. Obviously, the defeat dimmed his excitement over that accomplishment.

"We had a rough day and we lost, but we have to put that behind us," Salley said. "Nobody can fault our effort that we put out there on the field. We played our hearts out, but we didn't come out with the victory like we would have liked. We need to work on some things and get better.

"We've just got to get back to work. They had some third downs and second-and-longs and they did the same thing a lot of times. It was frustrating. We've just got to go back to work and not feel sorry for ourselves."

Basanez turned the game in NU's favor with his 21-yard scramble down to the 3 in overtime. That set up Noah Herron's 1-yard game winning touchdown run two plays later.

"We were in man coverage," Salley said. "Everybody was on their man. I guess he just saw an opening and he took it. It was a good play on his part. We knew he was an athletic quarterback. He made some good runs."

After games of playing so well, Salley said this one was a tough one for the defense to swallow.

"They were running screens and draw plays," he said. "Those were the plays that hurt us. They'd make a huge run, then they'd throw the screens.

"It's kind of frustrating because we are used to doing such a good job on defense. We came up a little short today. We just need to keep working, but we'll get there."

Tressel's Take

Tressel said the Buckeyes may have taken Northwestern lightly after a big win at N.C. State two weeks earlier.

"That is one of the dangers of having a young football team," the coach said. "We were coming off a pretty good win on the road. We worked hard in the off week. Obviously, we didn't handle it well and progress and get better. That's our fault. That's our coaches' fault."

But as the Buckeyes rallied to force overtime did Tressel ever think his team was in position to win the game?

"Oh no, we didn't do the things we needed to do to win the game," he said. "I'm not sure we played that well in total."

And, obviously, ending NU's 33-year string of futility against OSU was not what the coach had in mind.

"I wouldn't have requested to be at the end of it, but we are," he said. "We need to try to start getting better tomorrow."

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