The best thing — and maybe the only good thing — that came from Ohio State’s 35-28 loss at home to Oregon on Saturday is the blunt realization that the madness needs to stop. Playing during a pandemic last year created a lot of questions and clouded a lot of answers. Through it all, the Buckeyes persevered and played for a national title.
Somehow last year’s defense was good enough to win a playoff game. No reason to make real changes when you go .500 in the playoffs. But now? Offenses are treating the Ohio State defense like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe and the offense gets the first three moves. Offenses look like they know what the Ohio State defense is going to do before the next sub package even gets sent out to the field.
This isn’t rock bottom, but it may as well be. The realization is just as legitimate and stark.
My last car lived a long and fruitful life, but a couple of times through the life of that car (which ended last year) I had a belt issue. The first time, it started as a small squeaking but would go away as the car warmed up. Okay, no big deal. Eventually, the squeak began to stay and only got louder but it never really impacted anything. Rather than dealing with it, I just dealt with it. Until the belt finally snapped and I was stranded on a side street somewhere in Columbus.
Fast-forward a few years later and the new belt starts squeaking. This time I knew from experience what was going on and how much it would cost to take it in, but I also knew I had time. My car, however, had other ideas. The belt didn’t even last a week once it started squeaking. Fortunately, the car died in my driveway, but I still had to get it towed to a shop.
For Ryan Day, this defense is belt number two. And it’s squeaking something fierce.
He knows it needs fixed and he may as well do it sooner rather than later.
It’s not going to get better by waiting. It’s not going to go away. Ignoring it will only leave him stranded somewhere he doesn’t want to be — like the Pinstripe Bowl.
So what’s the answer? This defense doesn’t work. It worked in 2019, but it doesn’t work with this group. Day said after the game that he’d watch the film and have a better idea of what’s wrong, but did say it’s either scheme, coaching, or personnel.
The answer, unfortunately, is that it’s probably all three of those things. If you don’t have the personnel to play the scheme, then the scheme is absolutely a problem. I refuse to believe the personnel on hand can’t play something. If that’s the case, then that’s also on the coaches.
What should they do on defense? Whatever they are best at. And then build on that.
They have time to figure it out. Maybe it’s more of their two-high stuff that they also do from time to time. Would that suit Bryson Shaw better? Do you put Ronnie Hickman back there with him?
I’m not going to pretend that I know what should be done. I’m just a guy who watches football and writes about it. But I’m also not going to pretend that nothing should be done. I’ve seen enough football to know how something like this ends, and I’ve seen this defense enough now to know that it’s not going to end well.
But there is still time. Enough time to be the best defense in the nation? No. But you don’t have to be. You have to have one of the best offenses in the nation and a defense good enough to force about six punts in a game. If you have those two things, then you’re going to have a shot against anybody.
And right now, a shot is something the Buckeyes would gladly take.
Chris Ash’s defense was still a work in progress at this point in 2014. The Buckeyes were still working on rugby tackling and getting the defense to the point where they could add more to it. Eventually, the tackling became elite and the defense became even more aggressive. That season ended with a national title.
Ash’s quarters scheme is much different than what OSU is doing now, but what OSU is doing now has also worked in the past.
Ryan Day and his defensive staff need to find something that works and then build off of that. Fit the scheme to the personnel, because the personnel isn’t fitting this scheme.
With free safety Josh Proctor now out, that makes the situation even more dire.
Ohio State can win with offense for the next month, but eventually they’re going to need the defense to win a game for them. And if it’s the right game, then this team can still reach every last one of their goals for this season.
But they can’t do it if they just keep doing what they’re doing.
Eventually the belt is gonna break.
It always does.