Football Ohio State defense struggles with its identity against Indiana

Ohio State sophomore safety Isaiah Pryor (12) tackles Indiana running back Reese Taylor (2) in the fourth quarter of the game against Indiana on Oct. 6. Ohio State won 49-26. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorIndiana redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey did what Richard Lagow did against the Ohio State secondary last season. After Lagow threw for 410 yards passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 2017 season opener, Ramsey, despite completing 53.1 percent of his passes, threw for a career-high 322 yards passing, throwing three touchdowns. However, unlike Lagow, who set the tone for something to fix in the second level of the defense, Ramsey continued the problem that has plagued the Ohio State secondary through the first six weeks of the season. The problem that should be the selling point of the Ohio State safeties and corners: press man coverage. Like many quarterbacks have done to the Ohio State secondary this season, Ramsey beat the defense with the deep ball, completing four passes of 30-plus yards in the game, including three in the first half. However, the secondary was not only beat using press man on the deep ball. With Indiana down 15 in the third quarter, Ramsey, facing a 3rd-and-goal at the Ohio State 3-yard line, looked to redshirt junior Donovan Hale in the end zone. Hale was guarded at the line of scrimmage by redshirt junior Kendall Sheffield, who fell to the ground after Hale made a move on him at the start of the play. With Sheffield on the ground, the safety, sophomore Isaiah Pryor, stepped forward when the ball was hiked, expecting the run. With the bad angle, Pryor was not able to take Sheffield’s spot guarding the slant, allowing Ramsey to hit a wide open Hale for the score. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano knows where the troubles in the defense lie. “I actually think I can narrow it down pretty good. We need to fix it,” Schiano said. “The frustrating part is when you know there is something going on and you are not as successful getting it repaired.” Schiano said it comes down to him and his staff not coaching well enough, saying the unit, as a whole, is not playing consistently to the standards of what the Ohio State defense is expected to perform. He said it comes down to a few positions, positions he would not name, but said it has to do with the perimeter pass plays made against the unit. To head coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State is a man coverage team, plain and simple. He said, even after the win over Penn State, the coaching staff looked at the defensive play calling, hoping to find something that would improve against Indiana. To Meyer, it especially hurt against the Hoosiers.“It didn’t really snap at us like it did today,” Meyer said. “Penn State, guys made some plays on us. But today we really felt it. I felt it. That first half was awful.” Schiano said it’s not about changing the identity of the defense. It’s all about execution. “Whether it’s [defensive pass interference] or a completed pass, we play press man-to-man around here,” Schiano said. “When you play press man-to-man, you invite vertical threats and if you cover them, they stop throwing. If you don’t they keep throwing. So, we haven’t done a good enough job covering them.” Without much pressure from the defensive line, Ramsey thrived in the first half, throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns for Indiana. As the Buckeyes went to the locker room with a 28-20 lead, junior safety Jordan Fuller said there was not much discussion about adjustments that needed to be made. It was more about continuing to find the identity of the defense. “It was just reminding ourselves that we are a top-notch football team,” Fuller said. “We made sure to take care of the long routes before the short ones and I think we did that.” Fuller and the Ohio State secondary knew what it takes to defend the deep ball. He said it’s a mix of improving technique, coverage on 50/50 balls, taking proper angles and making what have been missed tackles. But it’s not all about the secondary play. Up front, the defensive line began to put pressure on the quarterback, forcing him to complete only nine of 20 passes in the second half. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones said the group up front has a lot of responsibility to create havoc in the backfield to limit plays downfield. “We can only control so much. We can’t control what the LB’s do or the safeties or corners,” Jones said. “So, as long as we are disrupting up front, they don’t get a chance to throw the ball.” With that, the defense did what Schiano said the group did a week ago: make opportune stops. The defense allowed only six points in the second half, leading to Ohio State’s 49-26 victory over the Hoosiers. With the high expectation of the Ohio State defense coming into the season, Fuller said the first half was unlike what should have happened with a group like this. However, with the play in the first half, Jones feels like some doubt of the group’s ability is starting to creep in. “I think people are starting to lack our defense,” Jones said. “Saying we are more potential than performing. I don’t think that’s true.” In Fuller’s mind, there is only one way to stop that thinking. Prove them wrong, which is something he is expecting and not doubting. “No, I’m not worried,” Fuller said. “Because we have the guys to do it.”

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