To win title, Buckeyes' defense must jell

Rob Oller

Watching Ohio State roll up yardage like Texas Tech while also surrendering yardage like, well, Texas Tech, the thought occurred: Can a Big 12-style team playing in the Big Ten win a national championship?

We’re looking at you, Buckeyes.

I exaggerate, but the principle applies. Ohio State can score points against anyone, mostly because the dynamic triumvirate of Dwayne Haskins Jr., top-shelf receivers and creative play-calling makes defenses weak in the knees.

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It requires that kind of stretch-the-defense offense to win national titles. Ezekiel Elliott ran wild for the Buckeyes late in the 2014 season, but OSU also had Cardale Jones hoisting deep passes to Devin Smith and middle-deep stuff to Michael Thomas.

Want to beat Alabama? Better be able to hit the deep ball. The Buckeyes check that box. But one also must play better-than-average pass defense. Unchecked box.

The current Buckeyes can bruise if not batter opponents with a decent run game — 201 yards per game — but it is through the air that they bury you. Terry McLaurin showed Saturday that he can do more than just block. K.J. Hill continues to be Mr. Reliable. Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell move at turbo speed, and Binjimen Victor might just have the best NFL career of the bunch.

Indiana learned that Saturday in the Shoe, putting up a good fight — mainly due to OSU’s shaky pass defense in the first half — before the No. 3 Buckeyes pulled away for a 49-26 win to improve to 6-0.

But if the Buckeyes scare teams with their pass offense, their pass defense is David Pumpkins — more confusing than frightening.

Any questions?

Yes, plenty. The secondary played better against the Hoosiers during the second half, but mostly because the safeties and cornerbacks could not have played much worse earlier.

“The pass has been killing us, and that’s going to bite us,” coach Urban Meyer said.

Will it? Is it possible the Buckeyes are so effective on offense that they can score their way to a national title? Before you say a word — and, of course, most of you are screaming “No” — consider that Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 for the 2015 national championship and Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 for the 2016 title. So it can be done, but I’m with most of you. And with Meyer.

“No, you can’t,” Meyer said of winning a championship with a defense that allows big plays like these Buckeyes do. “At the end of the day you have to play great defense to get where you’ve got to get. And I’m confident we will.”

But it’s not happening yet. What’s going on? A couple of things, beginning with the loss of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs to the Tennessee Titans and the loss of lockdown cornerback Denzel Ward to the Cleveland Browns.

Maybe the OSU secondary should not still be gulping for air against teams like Indiana that run an effective passing game — Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook said the Hoosiers thought they could exploit the Buckeyes’ secondary by winning 50-50 balls — but then the talent in back is not what it has been, either. A drop-off is going to occur when you lose players like Ward, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Malik Hooker early to the NFL.

Also, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano prefers an aggressive pro-style attack that relies on sensational secondary play. When the Buckeyes come up short in that aggressive man-to-man scheme … ouch.

Bright spot? The Hoosiers managed just 89 yards after halftime after picking up 317 before intermission.

“We didn’t really change anything (at halftime),” Schiano said, explaining that his players simply executed better. “We’ll get better.”

In other words, move along. Nothing to see here. Including pass defense.


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