Buckeyes Talk Big 12 Defenses

For much of the season, talk about the Big 12 has been about the outstanding offenses most league teams boast -- and the defensive shortcomings that have allowed those teams to prosper. With that in mind, Ohio State defenders talked about what they've seen on film and how they are preparing for the Longhorns.

As Ohio State prepares to play Texas in the Jan. 5 Fiesta Bowl, the numbers paint a stark picture of what Big 12 football was all about this season.

Five of the top nine scoring offenses in the nation plied their trade in the Big 12 this year, while three more conference teams were in the top 30.

On the other side of the coin, Texas ended the year 50th in the country in total defense – and led the league. Four Big Ten teams were ranked ahead of Texas in defense, including the top-10 defenses of Penn State and Ohio State.

The result is that the Big 12 has a reputation of being a league that features all offense, no defense. Given the numbers, it's a somewhat deserved reputation, but the Ohio State players and coaches asked seemed to have a split opinion on just how good the defenses are in the league.

"That's not what I see," head coach Jim Tressel said when presented with the idea that the defenses are lacking in the conference. "The thing that I see is that's a league right now that has got some extraordinary offensive performers. Every time you turn a different game on, whether it's Colt McCoy or it's the kid at Oklahoma or the kid at Texas Tech or the kid at Oklahoma State or the young kid at Baylor, there are some extraordinary guys under center and there are some extraordinary guys catching the ball."

There's no denying that the production for the top Big 12 players is impressive. Five of the top nine quarterbacks in the nation in passing efficiency played in the Big 12, including leader and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. Ohio State's opponent, McCoy, was third in the nation in the stat and second in the Heisman voting.

The Big 12 was the home of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's best receiver. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree won the honor for a second year in a row after leading the BCS schools in receptions per game, while Oklahoma State sophomore Dez Bryant, who was third in the nation in receiving yards, and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin finished the trio of finalists.

But while those players have distinguished themselves, the Big 12's defenses lag behind. Only two players from the league were finalists for any major awards this season, as Texas' defensive end Brian Orakpo won the Ted Hendricks, Lombardi and Bednarik honors and Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was one of top finalists for the Butkus.

The plethora of Big 12 receivers up for the Biletnikoff shows that most league offenses made their way through the air this season, and a number of Buckeye defenders had different views on whether it was offensive talent or defensive deficiencies that allowed teams in the conference to rack up such high point totals.

Safety Anderson Russell said that on tape so far, he's seen occasional mistakes out of defenses. In addition, the Buckeyes run a number of tough-to-diagnose defensive schemes that have confounded Big Ten quarterbacks for years.

"You see a lot of basic like two-deep schemes and quarter-quarter-half schemes and three-deep schemes, and you can see guys sometimes getting out of position or something like that," Russell said. "It's stuff we work on in practice just to make sure that that doesn't happen."

However, the debate is about whether or not the Buckeyes will make similar mistakes to the ones Texas' opponents have made so far.

Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, the winner of the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back, likely will be counted on to limit the damage done by Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, the Longhorns' top two receivers who combined for 1,934 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Jenkins said that any defender who puts on film of an opposing team thinks that he will not make the same errors as the ones he sees defensive players making on the video. In other words, defenders who previously lined up against Texas likely had the same thoughts as the Buckeyes do during their preparation.

"I can't turn on the film and say, ‘Oh, he made a mistake there. Big 12 defenses are so bad,' " Jenkins said.

One mistake Texas' secondary made earlier this year came back to haunt the Longhorns and then was a teaching tool for Ohio State. On the Crabtree touchdown with one second left that gave Texas Tech the only win a Longhorn opponent earned all season, safety Earl Thomas pulled up on the play as Crabtree caught the ball in front of cornerback Curtis Brown inside the 5-yard line.

But Crabtree broke free from the tackle of Brown and with Thomas out of the picture stepped into the end zone to score the touchdown that kept Texas out of the national title game.

The Buckeyes were on their open week when that game was played, and safety Kurt Coleman said earlier this year that when they returned to practice, safeties coach Paul Haynes used the play to illustrate that a defensive back should never give up on a play.

Coleman has since said that Big 12 defenses "are very well coached," but one can bet the Buckeyes will be trying to avoid the same high scores that were common in the league this year.

The good news is that the team has nearly an entire month to prepare.

"Luckily we have a whole season's worth of film, so we have a whole season of mistakes not to make," Jenkins said. "Hopefully, we can study those and try to keep the points off the board."

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