It was a pretty craptacular season for the Silver Bullets who finished 59th in total defense and 96th(!) in pass defense, leading to DC Kerry Coombs getting demoted during the season in favor of Matt Barnes. Both got tossed overboard after the Rose Bowl. The Buckeye defense has been fairly inconsistent for years now, and finally losing to Michigan really forced the program to make some big changes.
Ryan Day seems to acknowledge that he really doesn’t care that much about coaching the defense. That’s not meant to be a slight - the man wants to build a rocket powered offense and score bunches of points, which is a good way to win football games. But he seems to treat his personal involvement in the defense as more of a nuisance. So, gone are the rah rah guys who recruit and roll out their jerseys, and incoming is former Duke and Okie State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Knowles was a hot ticket, having just gotten Okie State (a Big 12 team!) to fourth on the defensive SP+. The man is already impressing the football smarts by having a defense that looks “organized,” which I’m told is generally a good thing for defenses to be. I’m generally dubious as to how much coaches can change things in one year, and I would expect some bumps this year. That said, it wasn’t clear that OSU’s defense was being coached at all last season, so we might see some real improvement. Let’s see what he has to work with.
I was pretty pumped about the line last year given all the Starz, but it just didn’t happen. The pass rush was non-existent and the rush defense was built more on getting big leads and forcing the other team to pass. Time is a flat circle, and here we are again. Zach Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Jack Sawyer are all big time five star recruits in a past life at defensive end, and if they make life hell for opposing quarterbacks, OSU will be in much finer shape.
The middle has a lot of familiar names, including Jerron Cage, famous for outrunning Penn State’s entire team last season. He and Taron Vincent are the nominal starters, though Tyliek Williams was a source of some excitement last season and might pop through. There won’t be a shortage of players, though I’m watching true freshman Hero Kanu, who was a soccer player in Germany until he decided to be the next Ndamukong Suh. I believe he is also related to Nigerian separatist Nnamdi Kanu, and you can’t buy those kinds of bloodlines.
The perpetual whipping boy for OSU fans, linebackers have really struggled all over college football as they have to both fill in the gaps at the line and also cover squirty receivers and mammoth tight ends all over the field. Football has moved more towards nickel packages as offenses have become more spread out, and the Buckeyes will be no different. Of course, who plays is a big question mark. Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg seem like the safest bets to start. Chambers converted from running back last year and frankly looked like the best of the bunch, while Eichenberg was the annual linebacker most pilloried by OSU fans.
Also in the mix is another converted running back, Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum. Longtime vet Teradja Mitchell and perpetual hype machine Cody Simon should also be in the mix. The linebackers need to be generally competent for this defense to be any good, and there are guys on the roster who scream “generally competent” if Knowles can get them running in the right direction each play.
There’s an easy answer and a tough question here. First the easy: Cam Brown and Denzel Burke were both very solid at corner for the Bucks, one of the few spots with generally no complaints. They both return and both will start.
The tougher question is how the array of other guys will fill in for Knowle’s preferred three safety looks. With a whopping thirteen guys on at the position for three spots, competition should be fierce. One name you can probably write down with a sharpie is Ronnie Hickman, who plays “The Adjuster.” Every coach has their own weird names for positions, “Jacks” and “Leos” and whatnot. By far, “The Adjuster” is the best name for a position in the sport. Knowles has raved about Hickman, and they are even sent him to Big Ten media days with C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, so it seems likely they plan on him starting.
The other two are tougher. Josh Proctor is a veteran and is penciled in to the “Bandit” spot, while Okie State transfer Tanner McAllister is a good bet to see playing time in the nickel. I’m not going to just guess at who else might play, but I was impressed last season with Cam Martinez, and Kye Stokes is a freshman who seems to be turning heads. This is likely the position that makes or breaks the new Buckeye defense.
You don’t overhaul the whole staff because things are good. Life was rough on the defensive end last year, and Knowles is a proven guy who has an unlimited leash. The question probably isn’t his ability, but how quickly he can get the team up to snuff. One offseason isn’t going to turn the Buckeyes into Georgia.
- The Buckeyes give up some long pass plays and cause wild consternation among the Buckeye faithful
- The pass rush is much improved and has over 40 sacks
- The defense finishes just outside the top ten on SP+, but in the top 15