October 16, 2012

Week 7: Evaluating the Buckeyes' defense

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State defense is certainly used to being the talk of the town around Columbus, but not like this. The Buckeyes surrendered 49 points- including 15 in the final four minutes of the game- to Indiana on Saturday, but OSU still managed to escape Bloomington with a win.

Even though its undefeated record is still intact, plenty of questions still surrender the Buckeyes' defense as we examine the unit by position group, with input from players and coaches.

Defensive line

Injuries have played a role in depleting the Buckeyes' defense throughout the season, which was seen evident when defensive end Nathan Williams missed the Buckeyes battle with Hoosiers due to a concussion. Williams is expected to return for this week's game against Purdue, but he may find himself at a new position thanks to the solid play of freshman Noah Spence against Indiana.

"At the start of last year, in the first game, I think he was listed as a linebacker or played some linebacker," OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "The number one most important thing is to try to find a way to get your best 11 guys on the field. There's not a magical trick to it."

Having had trouble defending spread offenses all season, the Buckeyes will again be tested this weekend, when Purdue and running back Ralph Bolden come to town.

"He's a very shifty guy. He's got some power with him too," defensive end John Simon said. "We're going to have to make sure we're really keyed in on everybody."


Ohio State's linebackers have taken the brunt of criticism of the defense's troubles so far, as the unit is so depleted that former fullback Zach Boren played middle linebacker for the Buckeyes on Saturday. OSU head coach Urban Meyer was impressed by what he saw from Boren, who led the Buckeyes with eight tackles against the Hoosiers.

"He's a football position guy. He's always in the reverse arc as we call it. He's not a body heavy guy. He's always got lateral movement," Meyer said. "On top of all of that, he's a tough guy."

Meyer was noncommittal when he came to addressing just how long Boren would remain on defense, but OSU's newest linebacker is under the impression that he'll stay on that side of the ball until Etienne Sabino returns from a fractured fibula.

"I don't know," Boren said when asked if his position change was a permanent one. This week I was just mainly 'D' and until Sabino comes back, I'm sure I'm going to be mainly 'D' and just help out on the offense whenever I can."

Defensive backs

Perhaps one reason why the Buckeyes' defense found trouble against the Hoosiers was because it spent the week preparing for the wrong thing. Instead of executing the bubble and screen passes that it had in previous weeks, the Indiana offense tried to take the Buckeyes deep, which cornerback Travis Howard said caught his team by surprise.

"We didn't react really good at all," Howard said. "We just have to come together and just kind of do what we're capable of doing."

On a positive note for the Buckeyes, Howard feels as though he and fellow cornerback Bradley Roby have emerged as the Big Ten's top cornerback duo, which is a challenge that position coach Kerry Coombs set for his two top players before the season started.

"Coming into the season, Coach Coombs said he wanted us to be the best at what we do and lead the corners in interceptions in the Big Ten," Howard said. "Right now we're on the road to doing great, and we just have to keep on improving."


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