Defense Gets Wake-Up Call Against Kent State

Any thought that the Ohio State rush defense was impregnable took a hit early Saturday afternoon when Kent State tailback Eugene Jarvis topped the 50-yard mark on the ground by the end of the first quarter. The Buckeye defenders said the performance was eye-opening, and they know they have to get better for a five-game fight to the finish.

To hear Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins tell it, Saturday was not the best of days for the Buckeye defense.

That's because both said that the stop troops' performance opened some eyes, and it was not in a good way. The Buckeyes allowed more rushing yards against Kent State during their 48-3 win than they had in any game up to this point, a total that included the vaunted rushing defense getting gashed for 113 yards on 28 carries in the first half.

Most of the damage came at the hands of 5-5 Golden Flashes tailback Eugene Jarvis, who lived up to his billing as a spritely, hard-to-tackle waterbug. The Pittsburgh native started his day with 52 yards on eight carries in the first quarter and got to halftime with 83 yards on 15 totes.

"It looked to me like we missed a lot of tackles," Heacock said. "I think their back is pretty shifty and I'm not sure that we've seen that type of running game. We got our eyes opened a little bit. It was probably good for us."

When the game was over, Kent State had accumulated 161 yards on 48 carries, numbers that do not stand out as surprisingly high but enough to top the 142 that Washington gained on the ground. In three of the first six games, OSU opponents did not top 10 rushing yards, and the 161 KSU had were more than 100 more than the 46.5 OSU was allowing on average entering the game.

"We have a lot to look at now," Jenkins said. "I think it's a good eye-opener to kind of bring us back on our feet."

Jenkins, in fact, may have hit the nail on the head there. Considering the excellent numbers Ohio State had accumulated through six games – the Buckeyes entered contest in the top three in the country in run defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense – the Buckeyes had started to earn high praise from observers.

Some, in fact, had started to compare this year's unit to the 2002 defense, the holy grail of Buckeye defenses that spearheaded OSU's undefeated run to a national championship.

As much as the players have attempted to disregard all praise and work on getting better every week, it has been hard to ignore the talk.

"I wouldn't say it can get to your head, but it can make you relax a little bit," Jenkins said. "I think today was a great thing for us because now we can get grounded and start from the beginning like we did early in the season."

The Buckeyes, especially the run defense, will have to if they want to continue to follow that 2002 blueprint that has been laid out ahead of them. Ohio State will now face a five-game gantlet that begins in a week when an improved but struggling Michigan State team, boasting the inside-outside tailback duo of Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer, comes into the Horseshoe.

A week later, Ohio State travels to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions and tailback Rodney Kinlaw in a rabid night environment. That will be followed Nov. 3 when Wisconsin and last year's Big Ten leading rusher, P.J. Hill, comes to town.

The season the ends with matchups against two of the best backs in the conference. Rashard Mendenhall will lead his upstart Illinois team into Ohio Stadium on Nov. 10, then the meeting with Michigan will feature the Wolverines' all-time leading rusher Mike Hart – should he stay healthy – in Michigan Stadium Nov. 17.

"In the next five games we're going to see the five best running backs in the Big Ten so I think (today was) a good wake-up call for us," Heacock said. "Our guys need to realize we need to do a better job on the run."

In the eyes of Kent State head coach Doug Martin, a team like Michigan State, which can run the ball in a variety of ways, might be a team that can have success against OSU.

"If you're going to run the ball on them, you better be a very diverse running team," Martin said. "You better be able to have a little bit of option in your package, you better be able to trap, you better be able to zone because if you're one-dimensional, they really do a good job of blocking in and shutting you down."

To prepare for a team like the Spartans, the Buckeyes will have to put the nose to the grindstone during the week, and that will include continuing to tune out the distractions of being the presumed soon-to-be No. 1 team in the country or the continuing talk of how historically good the defense can be.

"Everybody likes to tell you, ‘You're doing good, you're doing good,'" defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said. "All you have to say is, ‘Thank you, thank you.' We can't put that in our heads. We have to keep saying we're nowhere near where we need to be and get better every week."

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