Missed tackles have been an issue for Ohio State the past two weeks.
In the 49-20 loss at Purdue and 36-31 win against Nebraska, the Buckeyes missed a combined 35 tackles, including 20 against the Boilermakers.
On Saturday, they had only three in Ohio State’s 26-6 win against Michigan State.
“That’s where we belong, in the single digits,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “It’s amazing when we do that, when we tackle well, how things go better.”
Things went better for the Buckeyes in their 20-point victory. Ohio State held the Spartans to a 37.5 completion percentage through the air, and gave up 54 rushing yards on the game, 47 of which came on one play by redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Robert Landers said it was the first complete game he felt the defense has played all season.
“You know it did a lot for our confidence,” Landers said. “There’s still a lot of things that we could have done better, you know we put together a complete game, but when you strive for perfection, it’s always something that you could have done better.”
Even with the complete game, Ohio State’s defensive numbers did not jump off the page.
Of the safety and three turnovers Michigan State allowed, only one was forced by the Buckeyes when redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones hit redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke while he was throwing, allowing the ball to land in the hands of redshirt freshman safety Shaun Wade.
Ohio State did not have a sack all game, and only two tackles for loss.
Junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said the pass rush does not always depend on the stats.
“I feel like as long as we’re getting pressures on the quarterback and affecting him in any sort of way than we’re doing our job,” Cooper said. “Even though the stats and the sacks aren’t popping up but we’re getting there effectively and efficiently, then that’s just as effective on our football team.”
In nearly every week, head coach Urban Meyer says in his postgame press conference that the defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, that there are various areas where the defense can improve.
After the Michigan State win, he said the same thing again, and Landers said the same thing on Tuesday.
“I feel like as a defense we put together a solid game,” Landers said. “When you’re an elite competitor how we are here, you never really satisfied, so you always find something that you can fix, because there’s always something that can be better.”
But after this game, there was more of a feeling that the defense was turning a corner.
Holding the Spartans to two field goals on the road, shutting them out in the second half while missing just three tackles, the Buckeyes have more to hold their head high on than any other game in the past month.
Schiano said the defense will “be close to full force” in terms of health on Saturday. Cooper said he thinks the defense will only improve, even after the performance in East Lansing, Michigan.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, we feel like we’re playing the way that we should,” Cooper said. “We feel like we’ve finally gotten into a rhythm and a flow, and I mean with us rolling like that, and us going like that, all we can go is up.”