September 11, 2012
Week 2: Evaluating the Buckeyes' defense
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Each week at Buckeye Grove, we'll examine the current state of the Ohio State position groups, with insight from Buckeyes' players and coaches.
Earlier today, we took a look at the Ohio State offense, which faces several questions heading into the Buckeyes' game against California. Now, we'll examine the OSU defense, which is not without uncertainties of its own heading into the Buckeyes' showdown with the Bears.
Despite being forced into the nickel package for most of the first two weeks of the season, the OSU linebackers have showed steady improvement from a year ago, with Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino each being represented as two of the Buckeyes' top three tacklers through two games. Sabino admitted that he'd like to see his team improve on its third down defense.
"We do need to get more pressure as a team. We need to find a way to get off the field on third down," Sabino said. "We just have to get better."
No play showcased the OSU linebackers' effort better than on Sabino's first career interception on Saturday, where pressure from Shazier forced UCF quarterback Blake Bortles into an errant throw, that landed in the hands of the fifth-year senior.
"Our defensive line and our front guys, especially Ryan Shazier, had some good pressure," Sabino said. "The ball kind of bounced up into my hands; you can't give me too much credit. I credit the defensive line for bringing the pressure."
No position group on the Ohio State roster was under more scrutiny following the Buckeyes' 31-16 win over Central Florida than its defensive line. Thought to be a strength of the team heading into the game, the Buckeyes only recorded one sack, and have only totaled three sacks in OSU's first two games.
"I could list a multitude of reasons and excuses and so on and so forth; we have to get better at quarterback or it's going to be a long year," OSU coach Urban Meyer said. "Teams are doing a good job of defending us and defending our best pass rusher."
With Michael Bennett expected to miss at least another week of action, the Buckeyes could find themselves relying on a trio of true freshmen on the line in Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, and Adolphus Washington for the second consecutive week. Meyer said he's been happy with the effort he's seen from the freshmen, but admitted that their youth can show at times.
"They work their tails off and then they are talented," Meyer said. "There's no issue as far as want to, and there's no issue as far as try hard. It's just freshmen playing defensive line."
Although the OSU secondary provided the Buckeyes with two interceptions on Saturday, it still gave up some of the same big plays that plagued the team a season ago. With Knights' pass catches making plays that went for 35, 27, and 20 yards on separate occasions, OSU cornerback Travis Howard is aware that there are still improvements that his team needs to make.
"I feel like we have better days in us and we could have done a better job, but it's still only the second game," Howard said. "We have to regroup and get things together."
With talented California receiver Keenan Allen coming to town on Saturday, the Buckeyes would be best suited to make those adjustments as soon as possible.
"Any time you play a great receiver, you have to have a tremendous respect for their ability," OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "We watched the film, we've studied the mistakes that have been made, and most of the errors that have been made have been as a result of communication breakdowns."
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