Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier said words couldn’t describe the Buckeyes’ defensive performance against Indiana. The appropriate descriptors came to first-year OSU coach Urban Meyer with apparent ease during his weekly press conference Monday, and he wasn’t happy.
Maybe that’s why, at least for the time being, Meyer will have an increased role in the defense – he’s targeted the problem and is already working with the unit to improve its play.
In light of nearly blowing an 18-point, late-game lead against the Hoosiers, Meyer, who said he’d be more involved with the defensive unit afterward, said the Buckeyes need to eliminate big plays. To help facilitate the defense’s growth, he’s already upped his involvement with the unit – Meyer said he’s met with both the players and the coaches on the defensive side of the ball.
You won’t hear a whine from co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell regarding these matters, though – he said he’s happy to continue collaborating with Meyer.
After allowing 481 yards of total offense and 49 points, Meyer described OSU’s problem succinctly, saying it needs to cease allowing big plays.
“Pressing issues, eliminate the big play. There were 14 plays in there (against Indiana), and I actually met with the entire defense and the defensive staff in there,” Meyer said. “Instead of just complaining and whining and making noise, we have to put a plan together. That’s eliminate big plays … I’m not happy at all with what’s going on defense. That includes players, coaches and I think we can all get better.”
Fickell’s defense is a porous one – OSU has allowed more points through seven games – 172 - than in either the past two seasons. Last year, the Buckeyes allowed 114 points to the opposition through seven games and during the team’s 2010 Sugar Bowl-championship campaign, which was later vacated, the defense allowed 112 points through seven games.
With concerns about the now No. 7-ranked Buckeyes’ defense bubbling over, Fickell didn’t offer any excuses. Instead, a simple solution – make more plays, he said.
“We’ve got to do a lot better job. I think the big thing is you look at – we’ve got to finish,” Fickell said. “To me, the greatest thing is, you say, ‘Hey, let’s see how we learn from this.'”
From the outside looking in, it might appear that Fickell, having drawn Meyer’s ire, will now have his toes stepped on by the Buckeyes’ head coach. While it’s true that Meyer will be more involved in the defense, Fickell said, he’s always been present, adding that increased criticism from Meyer should help speed the learning process up.
“(Meyer’s) come over more, but I think he’s always been involved. I think his ability to get over there and make sure, you know, motivational things and make things uncomfortable at times, but that’s how you grow,” Fickell said. “Hopefully he continues to spend a little bit more time with us.
“(Co-defensive) coach (Everett) Withers and I, (cornerbacks) coach (Kerry) Coombs, (defensive line) coach (Mike) Vrabel – we all do things together, same way we’ve done in the past … It’s a collaborative issue and it’s not about any one person. That’s what we ask our kids to do and that’s what we ask our coaches to be like.”
Meyer’s arrival in the defense’s meeting room comes just in time, too. Players, such as Shazier, say they’re distraught about the team’s play.
“The defense, we’re really, really mad right now … We discussed how we played (against Indiana) and we had a horrible game,” Shazier said. “I’m not saying anything bad about Indiana, but we shouldn’t have gone out like that. We gave up too many yards, too many points.”
The pieces, Meyer said, are already in place to turn the defense’s performance around.
“We’ve got good coaches, good players and we’ll move forward and get better,” he said.
OSU is scheduled to continue Big Ten play Saturday against Purdue University at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.