The old saying in football is that if you’ve got two quarterbacks, you ain’t got one.
Well, what if you’ve got six linebackers, four cornerbacks, and three safeties?
That was the situation the Ohio State defense found itself in during the season opener Thursday night against Minnesota. The Buckeyes came away with a 45-31 win, but the Silver Bullets weren’t exactly firing as intended.
The Buckeyes rotated heavily on defense, seeing linebackers Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope, Cody Simon, Tommy Eichenberg, and Steele Chambers all mixing into the action. Ohio State also rotated four cornerbacks, including true freshman Denzel Burke who got the start. The Buckeyes were without starting cornerbacks Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, so some rotating at corner can maybe be forgiven.
Overall, Minnesota gained 408 yards of total offense, throwing for 205 yards and rushing for 203. The Gophers notched 24 first downs, held the ball for 39 minutes, and allowed the Buckeyes just 48 total plays on offense.
“It’s hard when the time of possession goes the other way with Minnesota,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game.
“There was a point there in the second quarter where we couldn’t seem to get the ball back. Couldn’t get off the field on defense. There was some new guys in there feeling it out and sometimes runs instead of going for 1 or 2, they go for 3 or 4, and they stayed on schedule and hit some passes.”
Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed for 163 yards on 30 carries, thanks in large part to a 56 yarder on fourth-and-1. He was only stopped in the backfield once, and that was for a loss of just one yard.
The Gophers got a push on the Ohio State defense, which allowed the Minnesota offense to stay on schedule. The amount of rotating may be a scapegoat, but then again, it might not be.
Similar to the offense, where redshirt freshman running back Miyan Williams picked up 79 yards on his first two carries and then didn’t see the ball again until late in the second quarter, it seemed at times that the Buckeyes were substituting just for the sake of substituting.
“I gotta look at the film and see,” Day said. “They ran the ball really well and controlled the game a little bit, so we’ll look at it. But there were a lot of guys who played a lot of football. We have an opportunity now. We recruited a lot of young players and we lost those four linebackers, and because of that you can see we matched some personnel a little bit differently this game.
“And now we’re going to have to go back and assess and really get a feel for that. Because when you’re going in scrimmages and practices you get a good feel for things, but you don’t really know until you get into a game. I think it’s going to sort itself out a little bit, but we do like to playing depth and guys who deserve to play are going to [play].”
The question being begged is whether the Buckeyes were rotating so much defensively because they have so much talent, or were they rotating so much because they’re still trying to figure out who their best players actually are.
If the argument is that there is simply too much talent to sit, Day knows that kind of reasoning is only going to be put to the test when the Buckeyes take the field next Saturday against the Oregon Ducks.
“It’s close. We have a lot of depth, so we’re playing a lot of depth right now,” Day said. “Maybe it sorts out a little bit differently as we watch the film and guys solidify some spots. Until then, it was really close at a lot of positions. We’ll have to look at it and see if we need to have a little more continuity in certain positions. But when it was that close, guys deserve to play and we’re going to play depth. I think that’s going to serve us well certainly down the road.
“When you start with a non-conference game and you can get some guys into the game in the second half, it’s a little different when you start with a conference game. The whole goal here was to go 1-0 and now that next goal is to go 2-0 and then we come up for air and figure out what’s next. It was a 1-game season here and we didn’t care what the score was. And it’s going to be the same thing next week.”