With fall practice set to start in less than 24 hours the excitement about the return of football to Ohio State is reaching the highest of highs. The 2021 season had plenty of good moments but will be remembered by most for a few bad moments, mostly revolving around a defense that was a departure from the usual defense on display from the Buckeyes.
The numbers are well-known, tied for 59th in total defense, 38th in scoring defense and 97th in passing yards allowed.
Even with all of that, the Buckeyes still finished the year 11-2 but as we have said before, that is not good enough for Buckeye Nation and that includes the Ohio State football team.
Enter Jim Knowles, the new head coach of the Ohio State defense, the architect of the 2021 Oklahoma State defense, a defense that finished No.5 in total defense, gave up 18 points per game (4.7 points fewer than Ohio State) and held opponents to fewer than 90 yards per game on the ground.
“We have to play winning football, and that starts with stopping the run,” Ryan Day said during the recent Big Ten Football Media Days.
The Buckeyes gave up only 126.8 yards per game on the ground last season, but Oregon rushed for 269 yards and three scores in an Ohio State loss. Michigan rushed for 297 yards and SIX touchdowns in an Ohio State loss. Even Utah had 226 yards and a couple of scores in an Ohio State win.
Ohio State’s 2021 defense did hold Tulsa, Akron, Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan State all to less than 100 yards. Only Tulsa finished the year in the top-50 in rushing offense and Tulsa opted to attack Ohio State via the pass to the tune of 428 yards.
Knowles, Perry Eliano, and Tim Walton have had a lot of work to do but early reports have been good through the offseason.
“I think our new staff has done an excellent job, Jim with the linebackers, Perry with the safeties, Tim with the corners, and obviously Larry (Johnson) up front,” Day added.
Gone is the single-high coverage, gone is Ohio State just rolling out its defense and saying, “We know what we are going to run, you know what we are going to run, let’s go.”
Sure, Ohio State made a change midway through the season, started running more cover-2 and cover-4, but it is difficult to make changes midseason after preparing with one defensive framework in mind.
Now the Buckeyes will be more of a nickel team with some wrinkles.
“New scheme, new coaches, all of those things are new,” Day said. “I think going up against them in the spring and seeing what’s happened this summer and now into the preseason, it’s been exciting to watch. There’s just an aggressiveness about them.”
The Ohio State head coach called his shot at media days, his expectations for the defense. And he didn’t take any half steps here.
“We expect a top ten defense,” Day said. “That’s what we want. When we’ve played our best football, it’s because we played really good defense, and we’ve been balanced and played complementary football.”
The last time the Buckeyes were a top-10 defense was back in 2019 when Jeff Hafley stepped into the DC role for the departed Greg Schiano. The 2017 season was the next most recent time.
It may start with stopping the run, but if this year is going to go from good to great and end with banners going up in the facility, the formula is simple.
“We want to obviously stop the run to begin with and then go from there, but we expect a top ten defense,” Day said.