Return of the Silver Bullets

At the conclusion of the 2013 football season, The Ohio State Buckeyes defense was in shambles.  It had just come off a three game stretch where the team went 1-2, lost their opportunity to not only win a B1G Title but also play for a National Title, all while allowing an average of 38 points per game over that stretch.  That statistic is not something that would sit well with Big 12 coaches let alone Urban Meyer and the renowned Ohio State Buckeyes Silver Bullet defense.  Changes were needed and everyone knew it.   After Sammy Watkins blew past the Buckeye secondary for the final time, Urban had a decision to make.   In his new book, “Above the Line”, Urban mentions how during a recruiting trip to Florida in the wake of the Orange Bowl loss, he pulled off at an interstate rest stop to decide if he wanted to blow up the defensive staff.  He eventually decided against this, however Everett Withers would later accept the head coaching position at James Madison.  Urban would only have to replace one coach on the defensive staff, and that replacement would be Chris Ash.

Chris Ash wasn’t a “sexy” hire by Urban Meyer.  Ash spent time under the loveable Bert Bielema while at Wisconsin and early on at Arkansas.  While Wisconsin always had a solid defense under Bert, the duo’s first season at Arkansas was a struggle with the team going winless against Power 5 teams (3-9).  While the pass defense did improve under Ash’s watch (113th to 72nd) it certainly wasn’t a unit to hang your hat on.  While Luke Fickell took the brunt of the blame for the defense’s struggles, it soon became apparent that Withers (the secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator) had a much larger influence on the defensive philosophy of the Buckeyes than most fans thought.  After 2013’s rough finish, Withers moved on to James Madison and Ash was brought in as his replacement with Urban sitting in on defensive meetings for the first time during his Buckeye tenure.  With the change came an overhaul of Wither’s conservative “bend but don’t break”  vanilla defense with corners often 10 yards off the line off scrimmage.  In came Ash’s in your face Quarters press coverage similar to what Alabama and Michigan State have done so successfully over the past 5 years.    The results were better than anyone expected.

The Buckeyes pass defense efficiency ranked 83rd at the conclusion of the 2013 season.  After the Buckeyes hoisted the inaugural CFP Championship Trophy in Dallas, that number had improved to 13th in all of college football.  A meteoric rise for a team who twelve months prior was getting torched by a Michigan team with one of the programs worst offenses in it’s storied history.  Now in 2015, the Buckeye secondary is even better.  Currently the Silver Bullets sit 9th nationally in passing defense efficiency, 5th in total passing yards allowed and 13th in total defense.  Obviously an influx in talent is partly responsible for this defensive transformation.  The linebackers were an area of weakness during Urban’s first two years at the helm, mainly in pass coverage.  The addition of Darron Lee and Joshua Perry has solidified the intermediate passing game that so often killed the Buckeyes in 2013.  The defense as a whole is a much more cohesive unit and have leaders at all three levels.  When you have multiple NFL players at every level of your defense, you’re sure to see some improvement.  Bosa, Washington, Lee, Perry and Vonn Bell all could be making substantial impacts on NFL teams this time next year.   That being said, the 2013 Buckeye squad was certainly not void of talent and experience as shown by Roby and Shazier being first round selections after the season.  The problem lied within the defensive schemes which did not put players in positions to succeed.  How many times did the coaches have to see Sammy Watkins make a catch near the line of scrimmage and scamper for 20 yards.  Or Jake Butt bust multiple TE screens due to the linebackers being out of position.  Safeties not communicating with each other and being burnt deep across the middle.  Urban Meyer saw this all too often in 2013 and recognized small changes in staff, personal and philosophy were in order.  The result is the return of the Silver Bullets we see today.

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