Ohio State Buckeyes: Defense still looking to create more heat on QBs

Almost halfway through the regular season, Jim Knowles says he is pleased with the Ohio State defense.

Pleased, but far from satisfied.

“We have seen some success, but defense is such a right now proposition,” the first-year OSU defensive coordinator said. “Failure is not an option. So it’s just drive, drive, push, push to be better.”

Knowles said he does not look much at results — except the bad ones so they can be corrected — during the season, but he would see mostly positive numbers if he took a peak at his team’s stats.

The Buckeyes are 10th nationally in total defense, seventh in passing defense and 14th in points allowed.

They are 11th on third downs but have room for improvement as far as stopping the run (33rd).

In the red zone, they have allowed nine scores on 10 trips — but only four of those have been touchdowns.

Ohio State is 17th nationally and leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 36, but they are middle-of-the-pack in sacks with 10. That ranks 51st nationally and seventh in the Big Ten.

Negative plays are a focus of Knowles, but he acknowledged wanting to get to the quarterback more.

“I’m pleased with what we’re doing up front,” he said. “I think it’s my job to continue to create more opportunities, right? To me it’s a function of coverage and rush working together.”

That means making the quarterback hold the ball longer if he is unable to decipher the coverage quickly. That buys time for a pass rusher to get to him.

“When they’re getting rid of the ball quickly or keeping (extra) people in in the protection, nobody’s guys are gonna have a chance to get there,” Knowles said.

While much attention on his defense has gone to the three safeties, who form the backbone of the unit, and the linebackers, who are coming off consecutive disappointing seasons as a unit, the defensive line might be undergoing the biggest change of the three units.

The Buckeyes up front are often asked to hold their gaps longer than in the past, something that frees up the linebackers to make more plays but can hinder the pass rush.

As a result, starting linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have 9.5 tackles for loss combined while the top eight linemen have 16 combined.

“I think that’s my job to continue to mix it up and continue to grow the system,” said Knowles, who added there are more parts of the defense yet to be installed.

“So there are a lot of things out there that I’m trying to sprinkle in week to week just to free those guys up more.”

Regardless of numbers, Knowles is most concerned with cultivating a relentless mindset on defense.

That figures to be especially important for two reasons: The Buckeyes have been in multiple blowouts already, and they may not see a top 25 offense until late November when they play Maryland and Michigan back to back.

“You can play great for a long time in the game, but it only takes one play for something to go wrong, or a 50/50 ball to go up in the air,” Knowles said. “So my biggest concern is that we continue to compete and have that mentality on defense of stopping them on that play no matter what the score is.

“We get into situations where it might be easy to relax, and it’s my job to continue to press upon them that stopping people on the next play is a habit. So like when it comes time when you need the defense to stop them, you can’t just pull that out of your back pocket and say, ‘Hey, let’s stop ‘em now on this play.’ It’s got to be an attitude. It’s got to be an every-down thing regardless of the score or where we’re at.

“So that’s my biggest concern.”


Ohio State at Michigan State, 4 p.m., ABC, 1410

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