Ohio State Football: How Can the Buckeyes Defense Fix Their Biggest Problems?

Tim Bielik@bielik_timSenior Analyst ISeptember 21, 2012

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 15:  C.J. Anderson #9 of the California Golden Bears picks up yardage in the second half as Travis Howard #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Christian Bryant #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State is 3-0 to start the Urban Meyer era, but things are still far from a paradise in Columbus.

The Buckeyes offense still has some progress to make, but they have all the tools to do so in Braxton Miller.

The bigger issue, believe it or not, is on the defensive side of the ball, and the problems that plagued the Buckeyes time and time again last year.

Those problems almost reared their ugly heads again in the Week 3 win over Cal: poor deep-pass coverage and linebackers taking bad angles.

It's official: the safety position is a major red flag.

They have struggled to lock down the downfield passing attack in all three of their games, especially in the opener against Miami when the RedHawks connected several passes of 40 yards or more.

C.J. Barnett, who looked like a stud in the making two years ago, has been a huge disappointment for quite a while, mostly due to his poor downfield coverage.

Christian Bryant also has to work on his coverage, but he has shown more of a play-making ability and is still working on his transition from corner to safety.

The question is whether or not the pair lack the chemistry to divide their coverages up well enough, or if neither has the coverage skills the position demands.

They have been getting away with the issue so far simply because it hasn't cost them a game. It helped cost the Buckeyes seven games a year ago.

The other thing that hurt Ohio State from a defensive standpoint is the linebacker position.

You can argue that in the last decade, Ohio State's linebackers can match right up with those from any other program in the country.

The last two years, it's been a different story.

The current crop of linebackers is much better so far, especially considering how strong Ryan Shazier has played at this point in the season. Etienne Sabino has also played the best football of his college career.

But when you consider how terrible this group was last year, it's not exactly saying much.

Cal's running backs shredded the Buckeyes because of the poor tackling fundamentals and angles that the linebackers showed on Saturday.

On Brendan Bigelow's 85-yard TD run, Shazier had a chance to stop the play with a wrap-up tackle but instead went for the knockout blow. He missed, and Bigelow took advantage with an amazing array of spin moves on his way to the end zone.

The other concern is the troubling invisibility of sophomore LB Curtis Grant.

He may be inexperienced, but Grant at times has looked invisible and failed to make a big impact defensively, something middle linebackers are supposed to do.

Maybe there will be a time where the "light" comes on for Grant, as it usually does for young players, but there has been no indication of that so far this season. 

He gets a small pass because he only really has three games of full college football experience.

But he's at a position where he needs to accelerate his growth and start making plays.

If he can do that, the defense will certainly become better because great defenses start in the middle.

Most of what ails this Buckeye defense can be corrected through coaching, although eventually a personnel change will have to happen at the safety position if things don't improve in the following weeks.

And that's an area that needs to be a priority for Meyer on the recruiting trail.

Follow me on Twitter @bielik_tim for the latest college football news and updates.


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