The Ohio State football team is undefeated and ranked fourth in the nation, but it ranks 76th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an average of 240 passing yards allowed per game.
Improving the pass defense, OSU coach Urban Meyer said, is the Buckeyes’ No. 1 priority during their first bye week of the season.
“The pass defense is very alarming right now,” Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. “That’s not just coverage but it’s pass-rush and in combination with pass defense. We’ve devoted so much energy toward stopping the run, because that’s obviously where philosophy is, that we’ve given up far too many pass plays and big plays in the passing game.”
The OSU pass defense was tested in the Buckeyes’ wins against Big Ten opponents Wisconsin and Northwestern, allowing a combined 638 yards through the air.
The big plays have been a problem for OSU, who has given up 11 passes of 25 yards or more so far this year.
Meyer said the big plays have been a result of “soft” coverages and missed tackles.
“It’s not because of poor scheme, it’s just we got to make the play,” Meyer said.
On the other hand, Meyer said the OSU defense is “really good” against the run. The Buckeyes held the Badgers and Wildcats to 104 and 94 yards on the ground, respectively.
With their win over Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), the Buckeyes improved to 6-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Big Ten. OSU trailed for at least part of all four quarters Saturday before ultimately winning by 10 points, but Meyer said he was satisfied with his team’s performance.
“Very pleased with our players’ efforts against a very good team, on the road, in a very good environment,” Meyer said. “It was good for college football and I’m proud of our guys and looking forward to getting some things cleaned up in the bye week.”
The leader in yards from scrimmage for the Buckeye offense Saturday was senior running back Carlos Hyde, who carried the ball 26 times for a career-high 168 yards and three touchdowns.
“I do like a big back, and boy, he ran really hard and physical,” Meyer said of Hyde’s performance Saturday.
Hyde’s rushing effort Saturday was led by OSU’s offensive line, which Meyer said Tuesday is in “great shape.”
“The strength of our program right now is that offensive line,” Meyer said.
Going forward, Meyer said he likes the team’s running back combination of Hyde, a power back listed at 6 feet and 235 pounds, and freshman Dontre Wilson, a faster, quicker back listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 180 pounds.
“I think if you have a Dontre Wilson and a Carlos Hyde as a tag team back there, I think that’s exactly kind of what you’re looking for,” Meyer said Tuesday, even though Wilson did not receive any offensive touches against Northwestern.
Meyer failed to mention Tuesday redshirt-senior running back Jordan Hall, who leads the Buckeyes with 69 carries for 427 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Hall did not play Saturday because of a tweaked knee, and only carried the ball once against Wisconsin.
OSU’s offense ranks 20th nationally with an average of 492.8 total yards per game, but Meyer said in order to further improve, the unit needs more consistency from the pass game.
“To be able to do both (run and pass the ball) is when you start talking about really, really good offenses,” Meyer said. “Against Wisconsin, not so much in the fourth quarter, but in the first three quarters, we were very good at throwing the ball down the field. This past week, we weren’t able to throw the ball down the field, not because we didn’t want to, but because they were defending it and they forced us to run and kind of chunk up the game, like we did at the end of the game with Carlos and our offensive line.”
The Buckeyes do not play a game this week, but it is still a busy week for OSU coaches. Meyer said most of the coaching staff will be out on the recruiting trail Thursday and the entire staff will be recruiting Friday.
“You got to seize the momentum when you have it,” Meyer said of recruiting. “We just got done playing two prime-time, nationally televised games that we won against ranked opponents, and we’re going to be out and about in full force.
OSU is scheduled to play its next game against Iowa (4-2, 1-1) Oct. 19 at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.