Ohio State-Virginia Tech: In Depth Reaction Part 2

“Average” was the word Coach Meyer used to describe the performance of Ohio State’s defense on Saturday night. Chris Ash thought the performance showed some bright spots and largely the mistakes were due to mental, yet fixable errors. Coach Meyer also felt as though the defense was moving in the right direction and had a nice foundation to improve on. One could easily see why the coaches would be optimistic about their young defense as they forced three turnovers, and did fairly decent yardage wise versus a spread attack, at least compared to last years unit. However, one could easily question the coaches sanity and wonder if they ignored the countless mistakes in the red zone and on third down. I’ll break down each positions performance Saturday and allow you to be the judge of which is a more reasonable view to move forward with for the defense.

Defensive Line

This unit was touted as one of the best in the country prior to the 2014 season. I think that statement is accurate if, and only if, all four starters are on the field at the same time. I questioned the depth of this unit prior to the season and it still remains in question. Todd Blackledge made a great point Saturday night that, up until Joey Bosa’s strip sack, the Buckeyes pass rush was getting to Hokie QB, just not in enough time. The reason for that was because it was being made by 4 defensive tackles. And in large part he was right. The quickness and athleticism of Noah Spence was greatly missed Saturday night. Steve Miller and Rashaad Frazier both did a solid job together filling in, but I think Buckeye fans took Noah Spence for granted last year with the emergence of Joey Bosa. Bosa has proved that without Spence he can have moments of greatness on his talent alone, but this unit is completed with a true edge rusher like Spence.

Spence collapses the pocket much quicker than any other rusher for the Buckeyes, and often forces the quarterback towards Bosa or Bennett. Spence also provides the flexibility to drop in to coverage and I think Chris Ash is very excited to get him back for that reason. Ash can use Spence in multiple ways and move him around the line. With Spence in as well I think it allows Ash to have faith in only having to rush four if he needs to, which is a major advantage for the Buckeyes young secondary. This unit played well later in the game and their rotation is almost complete, but they will need to get Spence back before this unit can really take over games.


Ohio State does not have the experience at this position to play the way Chris Ash wants his linebackers to play. In my opinion if he could put Raekwon McMillan and Dante Booker on the field with Darron Lee that would be the preferred starting line-up for the defensive coordinator, but putting that much youth at such a key position could be dangerous for an already green back seven. For now Ash has Perry and Grant playing well in rush defense, but both showed their weaknesses in pass coverage on Saturday versus Virginia Tech’s tight ends and slot players.

Ash prefers to have his linebackers get a soft re-route on any player that cross in to their zone. Grant and Perry failed to do that multiple times as slot receiver Willie Byrnes and tight end Bucky Hodges had free releases and often went untouched in their routes. Grant and Perry were largely chasing shadows and were seen time and time again on the wrong end of highlights. Ash attributed these struggles to mental hurdles, but I’m not sure asking Grant and Perry to cover athletic tight ends and small quick slot receivers fits in to either’s downhill style of play.

Defensive Backs

This group had it’s forgettable moments Saturday night, but also had several bright spots. Lets begin with the obvious issues: 3rd down. I’m going to pick on Eli Apple for this instance because I think there was one play that stuck out to all fans on Saturday night. 3rd and 17 from the Hokies endzone and Hokie QB Brewer connected with freshman Isiah Ford for an 18 yard gain. It was one of the biggest mental blunders of the night and left Buckeye fans stunned. Apple did not know where the marker was, but his issues began long before the catch. Apple did not get his hands on Ford off the line of scrimmage and was set on preventing Ford from getting deep rather than worrying about the first down. Apple’s mental error could have been due to lack of faith in whether or not he had safety help over the top. Either way, the Hokies took advantage of this mistake and several other “mental errors” made by the Buckeyes Saturday night.

On the positive note, since I picked on Apple earlier I will praise him for his early interception. And he should be praised for the play. Apple gave the quarterback a very small window on the sideline which forced Brewer to throw the ball inside, Apple had his head turned, high pointed the ball and made the play. It was as textbook as you would like. Vonn Bell also made several nice plays Saturday night including a nice diving interception that came at a crucial part of the game. I’m sure Ash will show the secondary a mixture of both their solid plays, and mental errors to help the players understand not all was bad on Saturday night. Ash and his DB’s have began to lay a solid foundation moving forward and I think this group will only get better through the season.


As soon as I posted my initial post game reaction there was one comment on the post that read “Fire Fickell”. I did not respond, because frankly that phrase has been used at nausea from Buckeye fans. Fickell may not be the most technically sound coach, and could be stuck in the old school with his love of hard nosed rush defending linebackers , but he brings a valuable aspect to coaching the defense which is the mentality it takes in game to adapt. I agree, he should not be in charge of the scheme or calling defensive plays, but having him on the field during the game to remind his guys to keep fighting and to provide them with the correct emotional feedback they need is vital during a game. No, I do not believe that firing Fickell will fix every defensive problem, I think getting the players more experience at game speed in a new scheme will help them get better.

That being said I think Ash did a solid job Saturday night. His players made young mental errors which was the most frustrating part of the performance on defense. The defensive line did not create much pressure rushing just four so Ash did blitz frequently. He never let up on being aggressive and going after Brewer and you have to credit him for sticking to his guns.

So what’s your judgement?

What do you guys think? Is this defense on the right track after Saturday’s performance or are you as concerned as you were last year? Let me know in the comments below!

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