Luke Fickell, Scapegoat

It is no secret that the Ohio State defense has not lived up to their typical dominant selves the past two years. Since Jim Heacock has left and Luke Fickell has taken over the defense the Silver Bullets have been at best inconsistent and at worst a swiss cheese like sieve.

While the OSU offense continues setting records, the defense continues to make average opposing quarterbacks look like Joe Montana riding a golden unicorn throwing lightening bolts of joy to the masses. The defense has been blamed for losses to Michigan State which cost OSU a chance at a national title and a BCS Bowl loss to Clemson.

OSU fans always seem to need a scapegoat. Whether it’s an entire unit, in this case the defense or one of the coaches that coaches the defense, in this case Luke Fickell. Before Fickell it was Jim Bollman, who in his time at Ohio State was much maligned for his ultra conservative offense, while the OSU defense was one of the highest rated defenses year in and year out.

While I agree that the defense has struggled, I don’t believe it’s all Luke Fickell’s fault. I also believe the struggles of defense started before Jim Heacock left the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s national defensive rankings since Luke Fickell was named Co-Defensive Coordinator:

2005: 8th
2006: 2nd
2007: 1st
2008: 7th
2009: 5th
2010: 3rd

2011: 26th
2012: 31st
2013: 28th

Jim Heacock left before the start of the 2012 season. Ohio State’s issues on defense started in 2011, when Jim Heacock was still running the defense. Luke Fickell, sans his head coaching title in 2011 has had the same title since 2005. So in 2011, what changed? How did a once dominant defense go from being ranked consistently in the top ten to a mediocre 26-31st?

Most Buckeye fans would just blurt out, “FIRE LUKE FICKELL.” Or, “THAT DAMN FICKELL (inaudible grunting).”

What changed? Luke Fickell has never run the defense on his own. He’s had Jim Heacock and Everett Withers sharing the title of Co Defensive Coordinator. When OSU’s defense shined….Heacock got the glory. And in 2011, when they began to stumble….Fickell got the blame. And when the great and powerful Urban Meyer took over the team in 2012 Fickell was made the full time scape goat of the defense.

1. Defensive turnover. Ohio State lost an incredible amount of defensive talent via transfers, player injuries etc…

Players That Left By Year:

2009:

Adam Bellamy-3 star defensive lineman
Melvin Fellows-5 star defensive end
Jordan Whiting-3 star LBer
Dorian Bell-5 star LBer
Dominic Clarke-4 star DB

2010:

Christian Bryant-4 star DB
Jamel Turner-4 star LBer
David Durham-3 star LBer
Scott McVey-4 star LBer
Chad Hagan-3 star LBer

2011:

Ken Hayes-4 star defensive end
Conner Crowell-3 star LBer
Jeremy Cash-3 star safety
Derjuan Gambrell-4 star defensive back

2012:

Se’von Pittman-4 star defensive end
David Perkins-4 star LBer
Luke Roberts-3 star LBer
Devan Bogard-4 star safety
Najee Murray-4 star defensive back

2013:

Michael Hill- 4 star defensive lineman
Donavon Munger-4 star defensive lineman
Jayme Thompson-4 star safety

That is a TON of talent to not have at ones disposal. I won’t get into the reason each of these players left, but none of them have to do with Luke Fickell. It would have been nice to have that depth and talent at times the past two seasons. every team deals with turnover, but the amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball has been tough to deal with.

2. New defensive regime. Along with Urban Meyer came a group of new defensive coaches. Kerry Coombs coached the cornerbacks and special teams, while Everett Withers was the co-defensive coordinator and coached the safety position. Coombs has been demoted from his position as cornerbacks coach and Everett Withers has accepted the head coaching position at James Madison. Both coaches have been replaced by one man, Chris Ash who has taken over the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coaching positions. He will be charged with revamping a terrible OSU pass defense.

OSU Pass Defense Ranking:

2009-13th
2010-8th
2011-14th
2012-78th
2013-112th

In the 2 years since OSU was ranked a respectable 14th in the country in pass defense, they dropped to 112th. ONE HUNDRED AND TWELFTH. Since most OSU fans think it’s Fickell’s fault, what did he change? I’d say nothing. I’d say handing the secondary over to a glorified high school coach in Coombs and an average coach in Withers was a giant mistake.

If Urban Meyer, who is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college football demoted Coombs and let Withers go to East Bagdad Tech…while allowing Fickell to remain at a position he has held since 2005 that should be quite telling. Urban Meyer wants nothing more than to win football games. If he felt Fickell was detrimental he would have let him go. He didn’t.

3. Fickell’s bestest buddy. Mike Vrabel was brought into the fold in 2011 to coach the linebackers. In 2012 Meyer kept Vrabel on to coach the defensive line. Vrabel ended up leaving to take a job with the Houston Texans in the NFL in the offseason after the loss to Clemson. While Vrabel was a tremendous recruiter he was suspect as a position coach. Vrabel was replaced by longtime PSU coach Larry Johnson, who upon seeing the wealth of talent on the OSU defensive line said he would immediately start regularly rotating defensive linemen more often and situationally. Something Vrabel didn’t do. Vrabel, for right or wrong left his best players in the game for most of the snaps, while backups were just that…backups. This lead to players getting winded when OSU needed them the most. I remember game one of the Urban Meyer regime vs. Miami of Ohio. Late in the 4th quarter Miami of Ohio was continuing to have success throwing the football and Meyer confronted Vrabel and Fickell on the sideline in what looked like a heated chat. Meyer was upset that there was a lack of pressure…a storyline that has plagued OSU’s defense for 2 years.

I’m not saying OSU fans should give Fickell a pass. He has been the responsible party for the Buckeye defense and their results, as has Urban Meyer. To me, the buck stops with Meyer, not Fickell. Meyer has made the changes he has felt necessary to have a successful defense. We shall see how those changes transform an underperforming defense. Meyer seems to get a pass because he’s a rock star. I hate to say it but up until now Meyer hasn’t won anything at OSU except a couple division titles and 24 games that are largely meaningless. No B10 titles. No Bowl wins. #gottabefickellsfault

I’m saying as a Buckeye fan you need to stop and think about why the OSU defense is actually struggling. There is more that goes into it than “IT’S FICKELL’S FAULT!!!” It’s flat out lazy, ignorant and disrespects a former player and current coach who has given the Buckeyes 5 years as a player and 12 years as a coach, most of which have been highly successful.

Time will tell if the changes in coaching and defensive philosophy will improve the results on the field. One thing is for sure, if the Buckeyes do have greater success on the defensive side of the ball Fickell will likely never receive any of the credit. Too many OSU “fans” have already made up their minds.

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OSU vs. Iowa Highlights

The Ohio State vs. Iowa Preview

After OSU vanquishing their two toughest challenges back to back (Wisconsin and Northwestern), the Buckeyes will host the Iowa Hawkeyes at 3:30pm, Saturday October 19th.

The Hawkeyes come in at 4-2 and tied for 2nd in the Legends Division. There has been a slight glimmer of hope with the Hawkeyes this year after going a horrible 4-8 and finishing tied for last in their division a year ago. Iowa’s wins were vs. Missouri State, Iowa State, Western Michigan and Minnesota. Their losses to Michigan State and Northern Illinois.

The Hawkeyes are ranked as follows:

Iowa Rankings

What can be taken away from this? Iowa’s defense is pretty damn good…like…really good. Meyer said that their front four may be the best they will face all year. The Hawkeye defensive line is stout and could give OSU’s highly ranked rushing attack fits. They did a good job shutting down highly touted Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch. Lynch had 56 yards rushing which is his 2nd lowest total of the season. Lynch did have success throwing the football and that is where Iowa seems to struggle most of defense. In both of their losses, the Iowa defense has struggled to defend the pass.

What to expect when Iowa has the ball:

Iowa will pound the ball like an old school Big Ten team should. They are lead by Mark Weisman who has 624 yards rushing and 3 rushing TD’s. Their QB Jake Rudock is inconsistent at best as he thrives off the play-action pass. Rudock has 8 TD passes to 6 INT’s. He will certainly give the Buckeye defense opportunities to pick him off.

Ohio State’s strength defensively is their ability to stop the run. OSU shutdown Wisconsins rushing attack, which is ranked 5th in the nation with just under 300 yards per game. OSU held them to just over 100. OSU also shutdown Northwestern’s outstanding running game as well. While this is great, both Wisconsin and Northwestern were able to throw the ball at will. Northwestern racked up 345 yards passing and Wisconsin tallied 295 yards passing. Neither team is known for throwing the football. The OSU secondary has got to step up their game.

Look for Ohio State to choke out Iowa’s rushing attack, but give up some chunks in the passing game off play-action. One of the major issues I have with this team is the fact that they are LOADED with amazing athletes on defense and for some reason refuse to be aggressive and force their will on lesser teams. Ryan Shazier is one of the most dynamic athletes OSU has ever had at linebacker and he blitzes less than Tim Tebow throws touchdowns. Fickell and Whithers need to simply be more aggressive during passing downs. Northwestern really struggled when their QB’s were pressured. We shall see Saturday if OSU creates more pressure.

What to expect when OSU has the ball:

Ohio State will do what they have done all year long…impose their will on the defense they are playing against. Braxton Miller will throw it between 20-25 times and Carlos Hyde will be the work horse in between the tackles. OSU will employ a deadly play-action passing game. Will there be a Dontre Wilson sighting on offense? When he is on the field good things happen. When he came aboard he was touted as the next Percy Harvin. He is averaging 9.5 yards per touch on offense. That is very Harvin like. He needs touches. The offense is just different when he is in there.

Iowa’s main focus will be to stop OSU’s rushing game and force Braxton Miller to beat them throwing the football. The bad news for Iowa is that Braxton can and will beat them threw the air. Millers passing game has improved by leaps and bounds since last year and he is spreading the ball all over the field, hitting check downs, tightens and getting his 3 WR’s involved in the game. He’s making quicker decisions and getting the ball out of his hands earlier. Last year OSU was ranked 90th in the country giving up sacks. This year thus far OSU is 32nd, mainly due to Millers improvement getting rid of the ball.

Iowa is a solid football team and as always well coached. They are a little in over their head vs. Ohio State however and this one should be over midway through the 3rd quarter. I see Iowa keeping things close for a bit and the Buckeyes pouring it on as the game wears on. Eventually Iowa will have to rely on their passing game and it will let them down. They lack the playmakers to keep up with the Ohio State offense, which is averaging 46.8 points per game, good for 6th in the country. Iowa REALLY struggles with the playaction game and OSU thrives on that. OSU should cruise.

Prediction:

OSU 41
Iowa 20