Ohio State football switches up defensive play-calling duties in win over Tulsa
After a week of mulling potential adjustments to a struggling defense, Ohio State coach Ryan Day ultimately opted for a change in play-caller.
Secondary coach Matt Barnes handled those responsibilities for the Buckeyes’ defense in their 41-20 win over Tulsa Saturday, taking over duties for embattled defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs.
It was a move that Day said was not settled until late in the week, telling reporters he entered practice on Thursday undecided about who would carry out the role. But it was a switch that left him confident as he reflected on the result and remarked that it could be a permanent solution.
“We took a hard look at it and had a lot of hard conversations, and we tried to figure out what gave us the best chance to move forward,” Day said. “This is kind of the rhythm and the structure that we feel like right now is what’s best suited for the defense.”
Barnes has never been a defensive coordinator, but he called plays for Maryland’s defense as its linebackers coach in 2018.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson also had heavy input in game-planning for Tulsa, according to Day.
“It’s a team effort over there,” Day added. “But I think the way things went today was pretty smooth, and I hope we can build upon it.”
The shuffling of staff responsibilities came on the heels of an upset loss to Oregon in which the Buckeyes were gashed by the Ducks.
In the 35-28 defeat, their first regular-season setback since 2018, they surrendered 505 total yards of offense, many coming on explosive runs or passes. Fourteen plays by Oregon gained 10 or more yards.
Day bemoaned some of the Buckeyes’ issues on defense as part of a larger pattern, extending to last season’s loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff final.
Coombs was then in his first season as defensive coordinator, having replaced Jeff Hafley, who left to become the coach at Boston College.
As part of the changing role for Coombs against Tulsa, he was situated in a press box booth at Ohio Stadium. He had previously coached from the sideline.
Day said he was “up there helping and doing a lot of in-game adjustments, things like that.”
But no longer serving as the primary play-caller had the making of a demotion for Coombs, who is the Buckeyes’ highest-paid assistant coach along with offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, earning an annual salary of $1.4 million.
When asked about Coombs’ response to the switch, Day said he took no issue.
“He’s a professional,” Day said. “He’s an Ohio guy. He’s from the state of Ohio. He just wants to win. He’s still very much a big part of this defense and a big part of Ohio State.”
While Barnes called plays, the results were still largely mixed for a defense in transition. The Buckeyes fared better in the trenches. They held the Golden Hurricane to 73 rushing yards on 28 carries, an average of 2.6 per attempt. That was their best effort since keeping Indiana to minus-1 yard in a win last November. But their secondary was picked apart by quarterback Davis Brin who threw for 428 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-54 passing.
Brin was intercepted twice, including one by safety Cameron Martinez who returned it 61 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes added more Cover 2 to their defense, using an additional deep safety. Since Day took over on a full-time basis in 2019, they’ve primarily used a single-high safety and alternated between Cover 1 and Cover 3. (Cover 1 uses a deep safety in zone, while the cornerbacks are in man-to-man defense; Cover 3 has had the safety and corners in zone.)
It was among some of the adjustments that appeared to have been made in the past week.
Barnes also called some early blitzes to put pressure on Brin, though he was not sacked until the second half.
The growing pains continued for the Buckeyes’ defense. Tulsa still finished with 501 to
It was the second straight game in which Ohio State allowed 500 or more yards to an offense.