A famous American bootlegger once wrote, “We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.” But that man was just trying to get a truckload of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta. It’s not like he was trying to build a national championship defense in less than one calendar year.
Based on what the Ohio State defense has shown at times over the past two seasons, it could also be argued that new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has a long way to go and a short time to get there as well.
There is always urgency at Ohio State, but even more so now with a quarterback like CJ Stroud and the dynamic offenses that the Buckeyes keep churning out. All it seems they need now is a defense to match.
Or at least a defense that won’t get in the way.
After the 2021 season, OSU head coach Ryan Day decided that sweeping changes were needed on defense and he went out and hired Jim Knowles who had done an incredible job of fixing Oklahoma State’s defense over the course of the past four years.
Even though the ultimate goal for Knowles was the same at Oklahoma State as it is now at Ohio State, the pressure of winning national championships is quite a bit more tangible in Columbus.
“I’ve had a good reputation for that,” Knowles said of his ability to fix defenses, while acknowledging the pressure of his current job. “You’re right, there is a lot of pressure. That’s not lost on me. This is not an entry-level position. To those that a lot has been given, a lot is expected.”
After accepting the offer to become the Buckeyes’ new defensive coordinator, Knowles was eastbound and down on his way to Columbus, loaded up and truckin’. But he’s not at Ohio State to do something that people say can’t be done. He’s here to do something that Ryan Day has been expecting to be the norm all along.
Fortunately for Knowles, the expectations will not be catching him off guard. Nor will the timeframe for results.
“I went into Oklahoma State really believing that when we could get the defense to rise to the level and culture of the offense and the things that they did off the field in the weight room, that we’d be able to compete for a national championship,” he explained. “And at Oklahoma State we were what, two feet short this year, right?
“But it took four years. It’s not lost on me that I don’t have four years. I don’t have four years here. This program is ready to win every single game right now and we have to get the defense to that level. So what Coach Day expects of me is to have a system that’s accountable, that I have to have answers, that the players have to understand why I’m teaching what I’m teaching.”
Along with those expectations, however, are possibilities. And probabilities. Jim Knowles is going to have access to more possibilities than ever before, and for a guy who likes to disguise his defense as much as possible, that means there’s a lot to like.
“It’s great. I mean, it’s what I do. I don’t think you could ask for a better situation,” he said. “You’re not walking into a program that struggled. You’re walking into Ohio State. Rose Bowl winner, 12-2. So for me to be able to come in on a clean slate with, ‘Hey, this is what I do with this with this defense that I’ve established,’ it’s great because the support is all there. Everything’s right there.”
Knowles and his defense will be working tirelessly to get his defensive system installed. And while they certainly don’t have a long time to get there, he believes they’re not as far away as some might think.
“From what I’ve seen, I don’t think we’re far off,” he said. “I think the guys that were here are good coaches. I just feel that we can gain a lot just through the presentation and being systematic. Having answers, having variety, so that the offense doesn’t know exactly what to expect. And being aggressive. So I think there are things that we can do, just through the packaging of it. But from what I’ve seen, I don’t feel like we’re far, far off. I think the guys that were here did a good job.”
The Ohio State roster is one of the most talented in the nation every single year. The skills and ability are there. Even over the past two years, they were much more talented than the vast majority of teams they faced. But talent doesn’t always have the answer.
Once the players understand the answers to Jim Knowles’ questions and can apply it to their aggression, then the final piece of the puzzle gets put in its place.
Then — as our bootlegger poet once wrote — it becomes time to simply ‘put that hammer down and give it hell.’