NEW ORLEANS – It is a defense that played a big role in last season's 41-14 embarrassment in the BCS National Championship Game, but it is one the team has not shied away from using this season – nor will it be one they are afraid to use in this year's national championship game against LSU on Monday night.
"Sometimes offenses throw an option in here or there or a quarterback run just to make you have to defend them," OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "Sometimes those are some of the bigger things and we say, ‘Hey, we have multiple ways of doing things.' "
There are many little goals involved with playing a 3-3-5 defense, but Fickell said the alignment is often used simply as a way to get different personnel on and off the field, such as Thaddeus Gibson.
A redshirt freshman linebacker, Gibson sometimes is utilized as a stand-up rush end in the dime package. That is a role also occupied by senior starting linebacker Larry Grant, who generally subs out when the Buckeyes go with their nickel defense but sometimes returns if the Buckeyes opt for a 3-3-5 look.
"We put a little more speed on the field," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We had great cover guys and hopefully it's third down and we want to get maybe a couple of blitzes off the edge just to do something different, just to change it up."
But after last season's showing against Florida in the title game, most OSU fans do not want to see this particular change being made by the Buckeye defense. Contending with a Gator team that liked to spread the field, the Buckeyes primarily utilized their dime defense in key situations throughout the game.
For the most part, it did not work. On its first possession, Florida drove 46 yards in seven plays and knotted the score at seven as the Buckeyes were mostly lined up in their dime defense. On a pivotal third-and-three, OSU went to the dime and allowed a 3-yard rollout pass that kept the drive alive.
Following a key second-quarter drive that saw the Buckeyes go three-and-out, Florida increased its lead to 24-14 on a 42-yard field goal thanks to a 32-yard drive that came against OSU's dime defense.
However, once the Gators got the ball inside the OSU 10-yard line, the Buckeyes went back to having four down linemen.
Looking back, Fickell said that might not have been a great decision.
"In hindsight you go back and you say, ‘Oh man, after last year we should never have stood up Vernon Gholston," he said. "The best thing that we had going all game was (him). We didn't play very well, but that guy played pretty well on the edge. We should've had him with his hand down."
For the game, Gholston finished with five tackles and the lone OSU sack.
The failure to stop Florida a season ago while using the dime defense does not seem to bode well for OSU's chances in that scheme against the Tigers, at least when LSU employs multiple wide receivers on the field. However, the Tigers are known as more of a power team than a spread team like Florida was last season, which could result in fewer situations where OSU is forced to line up in the dime.
Russell said he feels the LSU receivers are faster than ones they have seen to this point in the season, which could result in more situations where the Buckeyes play their dime defense to try and counter that type of offense.
"It lets me be more aggressive," Russell said. "I like that. We all can run too. I guess people discredit us because of what happened in last year's title game."
Fickell said the dime defense works best when the players executing it take care of their responsibilities, regardless of what team OSU is playing. It also helps that not many college teams have the personnel to line up with just three defensive linemen, he said.
"For some things it does work better for, in some passing things it works better, but sometimes it just works better because people don't see it as much," he said. "In the college ranks, I know that we don't see probably a true three-man front like you do in the NFL. Sometimes you don't have the personnel to do it like the NFL does. I think just like some offenses do things to give defenses trouble, sometimes head up guys and different front guys can help."
So will the Buckeyes rely on their dime defense on the same stage where it suffered its biggest letdown a season ago? The coaches are not saying, but it appears OSU fans have to steel themselves for the possibility.