When Ryan Day hired Jim Knowles as Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator, he didn’t do it simply to improve the defense. He did it with the intention of the Buckeyes having one of the best defenses in the nation this coming season.
After all, if Ohio State can have the best offense in college football, shouldn’t it also be able to do the same on defense?
Now, one school having both is a rarity, but it’s much better to try and fall short than to not ever even be in the picture.
For the first time in his tenure as OSU’s head coach, Ryan Day has hired a proven defensive coordinator and Knowles’ track record of running the defenses at both Duke and Oklahoma State has hopes high in Columbus that the Buckeye defense will be what puts this program over the top.
Knowles has been at this coordinator thing for a while — this will be his 13th consecutive season coordinating a defense, and every time he puts a defense on the field, he has the same goal in mind.
“We want to be able to create indecision for the offense, and particularly for the offensive coordinator,” Knowles explained last week.
“I think in college, offensive coordinators even have more hands on things that happen than in the NFL, so we want to be able to create multiple defenses out of simple looks. And to be creative in a way that the players can understand, right? So you want to have a lot of things, a lot of pressures, different things.”
It’s pretty standard for every new hire at a major college football program to bring in a ton of excitement because he’s going to be the guy who finally gets everything fixed. They’re going to be aggressive and dictate this or that. All of the bad stuff about the previous coordinator will be gone and only good things will be enacted now.
That’s not usually how it goes, however. There will always be difficulties because there are too many talented people trying to make life difficult on other talented people.
But Knowles’ defense has a track record. It also has a purpose.
“We were number one in sacks last year [at Oklahoma State]. We’ve been consistently one, two in third down,” Knowles said. “Those are all big deals for us. Why? Because it gets the ball back to the offense. So we want to create two to three simple pictures that when you look at it, or the offensive coordinator looks at it, he can’t tell what’s going to happen from that same picture. And that we have the ability to really do anything out of that same picture with that look.”
So many offenses today rely on a quarterback looking back to the sideline for direction right up until the snap. If the sideline isn’t sure what its seeing, then you can’t expect the quarterback to have a clear picture either. And even if they keep seeing the same pre-snap picture, the images change dramatically after the snap.
Too often over the last couple of years, offenses had a pretty good idea what the Buckeyes were doing on defense based on their alignment pre-snap. Knowles’ defense will attempt to counter that by being much less predictable.
The more confusion, the slower the decision making on offense. The slower the decision making on offense, the faster the defense gets and the more plays they make.
For an offense, the method can be maddening, and that’s exactly the point.
But it’s not just scheme, it’s also players and execution. It all works hand in hand. When Knowles thinks about the identity of his defense and what it will be known for, it’s a perfect blend of execution, determination, and preparation.
“For being tenacious. Just for overwhelming the offense. For being always in the right place,” he explained. “When you watch it you can see, always in the right place. Not giving up anything easy and then attacking with tackles for losses and the sacks, and third down domination.”