Monday, December 23, 2013
Improving defense at top of Meyer's list
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Presented with a one-question, multiple-choice quiz, Urban Meyer barely even needed to hear all the options to come up with his answer.
What does the Ohio State coach need to address with his beleaguered defense?
A: Personnel changes are in order, perhaps starting by finding time for arguably the most sought-after recruit in the most recent signing class, athletic safety Vonn Bell.
B: The scheme needs some adjustments after getting torched through the air down the stretch, undoing some of the success stopping the run and eliminating the margin for error for its own high-scoring offense.
C: Whether by choice or necessity, a staff shakeup might bring a new voice and maybe fresh ideas into the meeting room as the program heads into its third year under Meyer.
The Buckeyes couldn't get a firm grip on Connor Cook in the Big Ten title game, surrendering 304 passing yards.
“All of the above,” Meyer said after wrapping up a practice last week ahead of the Discover Orange Bowl. “ ... There are certainly things we need to get fixed and fixed in a hurry with Clemson coming down the road here.”
Meyer didn’t provide any essay answers for what those corrections might be for the No. 7 Buckeyes, either in the short term as they gear up for a stiff test against the No. 12 Tigers or what all might go into overhauling the defense once the offseason inevitably arrives.
But it’s plainly evident that the majority of Meyer’s attention will be devoted to shoring up a unit that ranked No. 103 in the nation in pass defense, contributing heavily to an overall effort that didn’t meet Ohio State’s high standards as it allowed 34 points or more three times in the final four games -- including the loss that crushed its national-championship dreams against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
Part of the problem has been lack of depth, and Meyer has quickly steered most conversations since the season ended to how hard the Buckeyes have hit the road recruiting. The loss of Christian Bryant to a broken ankle in September was a hurdle the secondary could never quite get over, and he, too, could be a candidate to patch the leak if his appeal for a medical redshirt is approved in the offseason.
Either way, Bell is a likely option to lend a hand, both against the Tigers and down the road as Meyer evaluates the roster and potentially looks to make a move or two on the field. And off it, he already knows now that he’ll be making his first hire since his initial staff was settled before spring camp in 2012 as Everett Withers departs to take over at James Madison after two years coaching safeties and serving as a co-defensive coordinator.
And while the work on the recruiting trail, the development of a handful of young, talented defenders and the hiring of another coach may all take time, the Buckeyes don’t have all that much to work with before taking on Clemson and trying to cap the season with a trophy in a BCS game. After getting torched for 755 passing yards in the last two games, they crammed as much as they could into the bowl practices over the last two weeks before taking off for the holidays and preparing to fly to Miami.
“I think we just have to break on the ball better, be more sound in our gaps and our responsibilities,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “We have to communicate better, and it’s just the little things that we’ve got to fix.
“I’m kind of surprised, because those little things, we definitely should have controlled at the beginning of the season. We just have to do a better job with this time we have before this game to get it fixed.”
Once that test is out of the way, the Buckeyes will have a bit more time to study up and make sure they’re prepared defensively next season.
Meyer has already made clear that every possible answer to the problems will be addressed.