Defense Hoping For Return To Form

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Ohio State struggles this season has been the problems on defense. Ohio State had become a mainstay among the top defensive football teams in the country, but that status continues to slip. Click here for the latest defensive stats as well as some comments from some of OSU's key defensive players.

With each passing week, Ohio State's reputation of fielding one of the nation's top defenses seems to be fading as if it's in the rear view mirror.

OSU surrendered season highs of 330 yards passing and 448 yards total offense in its 33-7 annihilation Saturday at Iowa. Where the Buckeyes were once a defensive juggernaut, they are now just a middle-of-the-road (or worse) unit.

In the latest NCAA rankings, OSU was 62nd nationally in rushing defense (141.7 yards per game) and 46th in total defense (336.7). The Buckeyes used to be a top-10 fixture on both of those important categories.

Ohio State has been especially pliable over the course of this three game losing streak. Northwestern rolled up 444 yards in its 33-27 overtime win over OSU Oct. 2, while Wisconsin had balance with 344 yards (184 rushing, 160 passing) in its decisive 24-13 win over the Buckeyes.

"It's not like we're playing all that bad," said linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "We get into position to make plays sometimes and we don't make them."

Iowa's 448-yard output ties the total turned in by Michigan last year (in a 35-21 UM win) as the second most yards allowed in the 3-1/2 seasons of the Jim Tressel era. Penn State rolled up 531 yards in its 29-27 win over OSU in Tressel's first season in 2001.

The Tough Tate

For the third week in a row, Ohio State made an unheralded quarterback look like a star. Northwestern's Brett Basanez threw for 278 yards and two scores. Then, Wisconsin's John Stocco, who had not been counted upon date, threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions.

And last Saturday, Iowa's slippery Drew Tate rolled out all day, stayed alive and ended up completing 26 of 39 passes for 331 yards with three touchdowns and – again – no interceptions.

"That just boils down to tackling," said linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who tallied 15 tackles. "We didn't make some tackles on him and he was able to make some long passes."

"He's a great quarterback," added OSU safety Donte Whitner, who added 10 tackles. "He made plays during the game. He kept the ball alive and scrambled around. My hat is off to him. He played a great game and the quarterback really led them today."

Quick Changes

Over the first six games of this season, Ohio State is minus-7 in turnover margin. So, in addition to not moving the ball, the OSU offense and/or special teams have also put the defense in bad positions with a total of 14 turnovers.

Against Wisconsin, Santonio Holmes muffed a fourth quarter punt at the OSU 17-yard line that led to the Badgers' final game clinching touchdown. Then, against Iowa, quarterback Justin Zwick fumbled at the OSU 30. The defense was unable to slam the door, though, as Tate threw an 8-yard touchdown to Scott Chandler for a 17-0 lead.

"It's frustrating when they get the ball in the red zone," Carpenter said. "We have to try and fight them off. We've got to find a way to stop them. We have to get the ball back for our offense."

Iowa was 3-for-4 on scoring chances in the red zone (inside the 20), mustering three touchdowns. For the year, OSU opponents are 15 of 19 with 12 touchdowns and just three field goals.

"Our job is to go back out whenever we have to," said OSU cornerback Dustin Fox. "It's not like we depend on the offense to do anything. If they're offense has the ball, we have to stop them no matter where they're at. That's our responsibility."

Schlegel added, "It was 10-0 at halftime and then they scored off that fumble. That's just lack of execution. It's not desire. It's not lack of passion for the game."

Third Down, Nobody's Friend

A consistent theme during OSU's three-game losing skid has been its inability to get off the field on third down. Over these three games, OSU's opponents were 24 of 51 on third down. That includes a 12-of-20 showing by Northwestern, 5-for-15 by Wisconsin and 7-of-16 by Iowa.

"Right now, we're searching," Whitner said. "We know that one of our weaknesses is third down. That's when teams are attacking us. We need to come out and work at that and get better. We know we have to put extra focus on third down."

Four of Iowa's third-down conversions were of 6 yards or more.

"No question, that's uncharacteristic," Fox said. "It's a matter of making a play on third down. There are so many situations where we can have a three-and-out, but then on third down they do something to get the first down. And all of a sudden, things snowball from there.

"Even if they do get the first down, we have to bow up and not give up touchdowns. We can't win if we're giving up touchdowns."

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