Despite dominance, defense for Ohio State football sees room for improvement

Bill Rabinowitz
Despite dominating opponents, Ohio State nose guard Robert Landers (67) thinks the defense “could do a lot better.” [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Judging by several major statistical categories, Ohio State’s defense is the best in the country.

The Buckeyes lead the nation in total defense (216.4 yards per game), passing yards allowed (126), scoring defense (9.8) and touchdowns allowed in the red zone (33 percent).

To them, it is not good enough. Fans see the dominance. The Buckeyes see the flaws.

With a potent Penn State offense coming to town Saturday, they believe they have to do better.

“I feel like we've done pretty good, but we could do a lot better,” nose guard Robert Landers said. “There's always room for improvement. One of the beautiful things about our defense is even with us putting on good performances week in and week out, they’re not elite performances.”

Landers said the Buckeyes are missing too many assignments, such as not being in their proper gaps or making incorrect calls. In his view, the Buckeyes’ raw talent has masked those mistakes.

“There's still so much that we need to work on, that we need to correct,” he said. “On the outside looking in, it looks good. From the inside looking at us, we look awful.”

His is not a minority view.

“Yeah, I agree with him,” linebacker Pete Werner said. “I think (Landers) puts it well. It might look good on the outside. On film, we see a lot of things that we need to capitalize on.

“There's a lot of things that opponents haven't really taken advantage of. But the weaknesses that we've shown, we've continued to strengthen those as the weeks go by, but there's still little things that we need to work on.”

Penn State averages 36.8 points per game, so the Buckeyes know they must be sound.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he also agrees with the assessment by Landers and Werner.

“I think that there's a lot to improve on,” he said Thursday, “and we're going to be challenged this week unlike we've gotten challenged all year with the skill and with the different schemes that they're going to be bringing.

“So we've got to win the line of scrimmage and defeat blocks. We certainly haven't played our best game on defense yet.”

The defense will get a major boost with the return from suspension of defensive end Chase Young, who’s probably the most dominating defensive player in the country.

Cornerback Damon Arnette also is expected to be back after being held out of the Rutgers game last week to help his fractured wrist heal. If linebacker Baron Browning and defensive end Jonathon Cooper can also come back from injuries, the Buckeyes will be the closest to full strength that they’ve been all season.

Lest anyone think the Buckeyes are doom and gloom about their defense, they’re not. Defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley said his unit should be proud of how it has prepared and played.

“I can’t say enough about them and what they’ve done,” he said.

But with Penn State followed by Michigan and then the postseason, the Buckeyes know they can’t rest on their laurels.

“I'm excited to see how this week's game plays out,” Landers said. “It's one of those opponents where talent is equated. There’s going to be a lot of emphasis this week on the fundamentals, the basics, our technique. And mentally, guys have got to be ready for the game.

“There are a lot of guys that are going to have to play in this game that have not experienced the atmosphere that we're about to be in on Saturday. And it'll be interesting to see how they respond to it.”


Ohio State vs. Penn State

When: Noon Saturday

TV: Fox (Ch. 28)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)

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