The Ohio State Buckeyes may have finished the 2012 season undefeated, but there is plenty of work that needs to be done defensively. Finishing the year ranked sixth in the Big Ten in total yards allowed is not going to get the job done and it won't be good enough if Urban Meyer and his team expect to compete for a national title.
What makes things even scarier for this defense is the fact that only four starters return. The entire defensive line is going to be replaced and there is only one familiar face at the linebacker spot.
Meyer knows that championships are won on defense and turning this group around may not be as easy as it would be on offense.
However, there are a few basic things that can be ironed out immediately. All it takes is simple communication and going back to the drawing board to learn some of the basic things that were taught to these guys at a young age.
Let's look at a couple of things that Ohio State can do to improve its defense in 2013.
It Is All About Effort
Before you go ahead and break down the X's and O's and who needs to improve, you can point out the most basic stuff. From elementary, high school, college, pros, it doesn't matter if it is the lingerie football league, defense is all about effort.
Like a basketball player going up for a rebound, it is just a question of how bad you want it.
Defense is the poor man’s work. Not many want to do it and you would much rather be on the offensive side catching touchdowns, but it is a necessity to winning championships. Do you really want to hold that crystal football? Well, get your butt out there and make a tackle. This is something the Buckeyes had a hard time doing, as guys just weren't willing to put the effort in and make the plays.
Take this game against Cal, for example. When running back Brendan Bigelow touched the football, let's count how many missed tackles there were and how many Ohio State players actually had a chance to make a play but chose not to.
Here's Orhian Johnson expecting to make a tackle by gently grabbing him with alligator arms.
Look at everybody just standing around expecting the next guy to make the play. The problem is that there are only so many guys on the field. Instead of watching, somebody needs to stop standing around and make the play.
The play resulted in an 81-yard touchdown run and ended with this celebration in the back of the end zone. Could you make a case for terrific balance and just an overall great play by the Golden Bears running back? Sure. But I dare you to find me a play like this that happened to Alabama or any other elite defense.
Many guys had a chance to make a tackle and everybody failed miserably. That play could have been prevented.
Another play that should grind your gears as a Buckeye fan is the showing against Indiana.
The Hoosiers come out in a shotgun formation, trying to score quickly to get back into a ballgame that seemed out of reach. The Buckeyes are in a soft coverage in hopes of keeping everything in front of them, which will help keep the clock ticking once a tackle is made.
Running back Stephen Houston slips out of the backfield for the easy catch and linebacker Zach Boren comes up to make a routine tackle. Just kidding. The senior not only took a poor angle on the ball-carrier, he completely whiffed on the tackle. This resulted in a 25-yard touchdown and made the game a lot more interesting than it should have been.
We can talk about schemes, who needs to step up and the different looks the Buckeyes can show to improve defensively, but when everything is broken down, it still comes down to simple fundamentals.
Do you want to play defense or not? Are you willing to sacrifice your body, run full speed and make a play?
Last season, Ohio State looked like it wasn't up to the challenge of playing defense, as missed tackles were happening far too often. If something such as basic tackling and limiting big plays can take place next year, the Buckeyes have already greatly improved in my book.
While the run defense could improve, allowing 116 rushing yards a game wasn't the reason this defense had issues each and every Saturday. This is also a unit that should continue to hold its own with a plethora of talented young men expected to fill out the defensive front.
It was the 11th-ranked pass defense in the Big Ten, allowing 243 yards in the air, that was a major issue. We kept hearing how talented the secondary was, but the results don't lie.
When you are at the bottom of the barrel in a conference that is filled with mediocre quarterbacks, we have a problem.
Last season, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs told Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch that his group would like to be the best in the country:
We want to be the best in America, and they’re working at that. Buckeyes cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said in April during spring practice. They understand that they’re not. They understand they could be. I think they have the confidence that’s necessary to become that. I think that’s their strength.
Confidence and potential are great, but those two things along with five dollars still mean I'm going to miss out on that Taylor Swift concert.
Take a play against the Michigan Wolverines for example. Ohio State shows blitz, but ends up dropping everybody back into zone coverage, only rushing three defenders and using linebacker Ryan Shazier (black oval) as a quarterback spy and delayed pass-rusher.
With Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner being forced to throw the ball due to pressure breathing down his neck, it is up to safety C.J. Barnett (black arrow) to close in on wide receiver Roy Roundtree.
An Ohio State cornerback was playing the flats (black square), taking away the short pass, leaving it up to Barnett to prevent the deep pass.
Instead of seeing this play develop a lot sooner and breaking towards the receiver to make a play on the ball, it was too late. Barnett was too slow, allowing Roundtree to make a wide open reception and then break free for a 75-yard touchdown pass after a missed tackle.
Yet another big play allowed by the Buckeyes which simply could have been prevented and certainly shouldn't have been allowed by a senior in the secondary.
Missed assignments and blown coverages were common occurrences for this Buckeyes defense throughout the year. There were a total of 17 passing plays allowed that produced more than 30 yards and the four passing plays of more than 60 yards were tied with Illinois for the most in the Big Ten.
Again, there is potential for this secondary to be great, but eventually the guys must play as a collective group and get the job done.
The Buckeyes have the pieces in place to be an elite defense. Now it is just a question of going back to the basics and learning the fundamentals on how to tackle, as well as working as a group when dropping back into pass coverage.
It won't take long to see if this Ohio State defense is up to the challenge.
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