What Can Be Done In A Year?

How quickly can things turn around?

If you are a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes you are hopeful that things turn around with the defense in short order with the staff turnover from the 2021 to the 2022 seasons, namely the hiring of Jim Knowles of Oklahoma State to right the ship.

Over the years the Buckeyes have gone from a team deep-rooted in defense to one of the nation’s top offensive teams and in that transformation, it has been a big of a crapshoot as to where the defense ranks from year-to-year.

Everett Withers and Greg Schiano were each shown the door after what were deemed to be unacceptable seasons for the Ohio State defense to make way for Chris Ash and Jeff Hafley in their respective years.

Now Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes have moved on to new opportunities as Knowles, Perry Eliano and Tim Walton join the Buckeyes looking to build a defense that matches a devastating offense.

What was the overall change from the year prior to the move to the year of the move? Did all the numbers improve or were there some areas that didn’t see a change? How did the offense hold up as these changes were made? These seasons are not played in a vacuum, different players and different opponents move in and move out with each changing year and it is not as simple as running it back.

Let’s take a quick look at the two previous major changes on defense and see what has happened historically, even if we can’t use that as a pure predictor of what 2022 will look like.

2013 to 2014

OUT: Everett Withers, Mike Vrabel

IN: Chris Ash, Larry Johnson

Chris Ash came in to turn around a disappointing 2013 season

As you will see from the numbers in a moment, it is not a case of the Ohio State defense being dismal in 2013, it just was not clutch as the Buckeyes would finish the year 11-2 but with two straight losses to end the season, Urban Meyer’s first two losses with the Buckeyes.

The Bucks would see Cal rack up 503 yards of total offense in the early season non-conference game as Jared Goff would throw for 371 yards.

Wisconsin would outgain the Buckeyes 399 to 390 yards as Joel Stave would throw for 295 yards despite Ohio State winning the game. Ohio State fans still have nightmares about Jared Abbrederis and his 10 catch, 207-yard show against the Bucks.

Even Northwestern would put a scare in the Buckeyes that season, leading 30-27 in the 4th quarter as the Wildcats would throw for 343 yards against the Ohio State defense.

But it was the final two games of the season that everyone will remember, a Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State as the Buckeyes would give up 438 yards to the Spartans as Connor Cook threw for 304 yards and three scores while Jeremy Langford would run for 128 yards and a score. And then in the Orange Bowl, an ascending Clemson team would pile up 576 yards including Tajh Boyd throwing for 378 yards and five scores and rushing for another one on 20 carries for 127 yards while Sammy Watkins would have 16 receptions for 227 yards and two scores.

Total Defense377.4 YPG (46th)342.4 YPG (19th)
Rushing Defense109.4 YPG (9th)141.3 YPG (34th)
Passing Defense268.0 YPG (110th)201.1 YPG (28th)
Pass Eff. Defense133.98 (28th)108.17 (13th)
Scoring Defense22.6 PPG (28th)22.0 PPG (26th)
Turnover Margin+5+7
Total Offense511.9 YPG (7th)511.6 YPG (9th)
Rushing Offense308.6 YPG (5th)264.5 YPG (8th)
Passing Offense203.3 YPG (88th)247.1 YPG (51st)
Scoring Offense45.5 PPG (3rd)44.8 PPG (5th)

We don’t need to really recap much of 2014 as that was a National Championship year, a year that Ohio State fans remember fondly.

But even with that, the Buckeyes did start the year with a loss, but it was not as if Virginia Tech moved the ball up-and-down the field as Ohio State would hold a slight yardage edge in the game. It was three Ohio State turnovers, including a pick six, as Ohio State was breaking in a new quarterback that would be more of the downfall as the Buckeyes held Michael Brewer to less than 200 yards passing and the Hokies to just 125 yards on the ground.

For being such a special season, the Buckeyes did not completely shut teams down, outside of Kent State and of course Wisconsin in a 59-0 rout in the B1GCG. Ohio State would have to gut out some close wins including Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota.

The Buckeyes would hold No. 1 seed of the first ever College Football Playoff Alabama to just 407 yards of total offense in a 42-35 win but would still need a Tyvis Powell interception at the end of the game to seal the deal and send Ohio State on to face Oregon and eventually win the whole darn thing.

2018 to 2019

OUT: Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch, Taver Johnson, Billy Davis

IN: Jeff Hafley, Greg Mattison, Matt Barnes, Al Washington, Mike Yurcich


Jeff Hafley only spent the one year in Columbus after 2019

If there is a time that a coach really has the chance to blow things up it is when they take over a program and when Ryan Day took over for Meyer, he was able to bring in five new coaches including Jeff Hafley.

Day was an assistant coach in 2018 and saw Ohio State deal with some defensive issues including the 49-20 face-punch from Purdue.

Everyone who watched Ohio State saw issues from game one when the Buckeyes gave up 31 points to Oregon State including an 80-yard and 78-yard touchdown run to Artavis Pierce. The Buckeyes were victimized by “explosive plays” the entire season and the Oregon State game was just the opening act in a show that nobody wanted to watch.

Ohio State would give up 28 to TCU in Dallas, a game where the Buckeyes would lose Nick Bosa, give up 26 to Penn State in a game that the Buckeyes won by a single point.

And then the Purdue game happened, a culmination of living dangerously.

Even after that, Ohio State couldn’t find the secret sauce with the defense, giving up 31 to Nebraska and while the Huskers scored 10 of those points in the 4th quarter, it was not as if the Buckeyes had scored 60 in the game.

Meyer’s final Ohio State team would travel to College Park (Md.) and give up 51 points to Maryland in an overtime game that the Buckeyes were pushed well to the brink on multiple occasions as Anthony McFarland torched Ohio State for 298 rushing yards on 21 carries and two scores, on identical plays that the Buckeyes could not figure out how to stop during the early parts of the game. The Buckeyes were fortunate to win as the Terps would go for two in overtime and Tyrrell Pigrome couldn’t connect with an open Jeshaun Jones to upset the Buckeyes.

Even when things were going well, the defense remained center stage as the Buckeyes would hang 62 points on Michigan in “The Game” but Michigan would still score 39 points against the Buckeyes. Ohio State would give up 24 to Northwestern in the B1GCG and then in the Rose Bowl, Ohio State would get up 28-3 before giving up the final 20 points of the game and having to recover an onside kick to salt it away.

Total Defense403.4 YPG (72nd)259.7 YPG (1st)
Rushing Defense158.2 YPG (56th)103.7 YPG (9th)
Passing Defense245.2 YPG (86th)156.0 YPG (1st)
Pass Eff. Defense122.24 (42nd)97.50 (1st)
Scoring Defense25.5 PPG (T-51st)13.7 PPG (4th)
Turnover Margin+6+9
Total Offense535.6 YPG (2nd)529.9 YPG (4th)
Rushing Offense171.3 YPG (63rd)266.8 YPG (5th)
Passing Offense364.3 YPG (2nd)263.1 YPG (36th)
Scoring Offense42.4 PPG (8th)46.9 PPG (3rd)

The changes in 2019 were much more dramatic in terms of output despite a deceptive opener where Florida Atlantic would score 21 points. FAU would be held to just 228 yards and would score 15 points in the 4th quarter to make the game look closer at 45-21 than it was.

Ohio State would hold the next seven opponents to 10 points or less and that streak would be snapped by Maryland, as the Terps would put up 14 points. Ohio State would put up 73.

Rutgers would score 21 points; Penn State would put up 17 and Michigan would put up 27 down the stretch but Ohio State would outscore the final four opponents of the regular season by a combined margin of 213-79.

Ohio State’s offense came out flat in the B1G Champ Game as the Buckeyes would spot the Badgers a 14-0 lead in the game as Wisconsin would take a 21-7 lead to the halftime locker room. Ohio State’s defense would not allow another point as the Buckeyes would outscore the Badgers 27-0 to end the game and win 34-21.

And then there was the Clemson game. A lot of things went wrong in that game in one way, shape or form but it is hard to put that at the feet of the defense.

2021 to 2022

OUT: Matt Barnes, Kerry Coombs, Al Washington, Greg Studrawa

IN: Jim Knowles, Tim Walton, Perry Eliano, Justin Frye

Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles
What will the Jim Knowles effect be?

The 2021 season is fresh in the minds of everyone, and we will spare you the rehashing of it at detail.

Ohio State gave up 31 points in the opener to Minnesota and the hope was that the Gophers were just really good, and that the Ohio State defense was not suspect.

That was not the case.

Oregon would beat the Buckeyes as the offense would bog down and the Ohio State defense would give up 505 yards of total offense and more troubling, could not get the Ducks off the field on 3rd down as Oregon was 8-16 on 3rd down.

The Buckeyes would make a change moving Matt Barnes down to the field as the play caller and Kerry Coombs upstairs. Ohio State would still give up a few points along the way, but a record-setting offense generally made that an afterthought as only Penn State and Nebraska would play the Buckeyes within two scores the rest of the way, at least up until “The Game”.

We know what happened on the snowy field of the Big House.

Ohio State missed out on a shot at the B1GCG as well as the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes would draw Utah for the Rose Bowl.

The Utes would give Ohio State everything that it could handle, and then some. Utah would take a 14-0 lead and take a 35-21 edge to the halftime locker room. Ohio State’s offense would turn on the jets with CJ Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. as the defense would only allow 10 points the rest of the way but it still took a Noah Ruggles field goal with less than 10 seconds left to secure the win.

Total Defense372.9 YPG (T-59th)TBD
Rushing Defense126.8 YPG (28th)TBD
Passing Defense246.2 YPG (97th)TBD
Pass Eff. Defense129.74 (50th)TBD
Scoring Defense22.8 PPG (38th)TBD
Turnover Margin+9TBD
Total Offense561.5 YPG (1st)TBD
Rushing Offense180.6 YPG (47th)TBD
Passing Offense380.9 YPG (3rd)TBD
Scoring Offense45.7 PPG (1st)TBD

What should we expect for 2022?

This does not all rest on the coaches, it is going to be a lot of what the players can do as well.

In 2014 the Buckeyes had All-B1G performers like Joey Bosa, Doran Grant, Michael Bennett and Joshua Perry (between the first two teams).

In 2019 the Buckeyes had Chase Young, Malik Harrison, Jordan Fuller, Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette.

While this is a team game, having big-time players never hurts as you are trying to turn things around.

In 2021, Ohio State had one member of the first-team All-B1G team and that was Haskell Garrett, and he won’t be back in 2022. Zach Harrison made 2nd team (media) as Ronnie Hickman made 2nd team (coaches). Who is going to step up, who is going to be put in the right position as Knowles et al look to install a system that will get the Buckeyes back “right” on defense?

As you can see with the quick stats, even at Ohio State’s “worst” in this study, the team was only giving up 25.5 points per game over the course of the season. Ohio State’s 2021 team was 2.7 points per game better than that.

What happens if Ohio State gets that 22.8 points per game down to just 20? Or 17?

What if the Ohio State defensive numbers improve by just 20-percent from 2021 to 2022? We would be looking at a defense that would be giving up just 298.3 yards per game. Only five teams did that last season, so that might be a lofty goal.

But what about if the scoring defense got 20-percent better? That would be worth about 4.5 points as the defense would fall from 22.8 PPG to just 18.24 PPG, nine teams in 2021 allowed fewer points, four of those defenses were in the Big Ten, so not out of the realm of possibility.

Now, these numbers are just numbers, and we are dealing with a lot of variables that cannot be represented by numbers, but the precedent has been there before, and it is fun to think about as we count down the days and weeks until the start of spring practice.