Ohio State’s defense is playing fast and hitting hard against opponents who like to run the ball, having stuffed two of the best rushing attacks in the Big Ten in Wisconsin and Northwestern in back-to-back games.
But when the Buckeyes face a competent passing attack, that aggressive mentality vanishes. They become as tentative as a student driver taking a parallel parking test.
“It’s rather obvious we’re really good against the run,” coach Urban Meyer said on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. “We held a very-good-rushing Wisconsin team to well below their average. We kind of kept Northwestern in check, which is also a very good running team with some complicated schemes. But the pass defense is very alarming right now.”
Wisconsin was averaging 350 rushing yards but was held to 104. Northwestern toted a 250-yard average into its game with OSU but finished with 94.
Each team, though, found holes in the secondary. The Badgers and Wildcats were a combined 45-for-65 passing for 638 yards and four TDs with two interceptions.
Meyer was rankled by two breakdowns against the Wildcats. All-American cornerback Bradley Roby appeared to be victimized on both, though Meyer didn’t mention him by name.
“I believe we were playing soft coverage at times, and the two big hits we gave up last week were pure missed tackles,” he said. “They threw right into our coverage one time, and we had a chance to break up a slant, and it goes 60-70 yards. And then we just flat missed a tackle — two guys missed a tackle — and that goes another 40 yards.
“That’s 100 yards of pass offense right there in two plays, and it’s not because of a poor scheme. You’ve got to make the play.”
The Buckeyes are ranked 19th nationally in total defense (out of 125 teams), giving up 326.2 yards per game. They’re seventh against the rush (86.2) and 76th against the pass (240.0).
“We’ve devoted so much energy to stopping the run because that’s obviously what our philosophy is, but we’ve given up far too many big plays in the passing game,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) have the first of their two byes on Saturday, and Meyer will spend their three practices this week working on both sides of the ball.
Although they’re seventh nationally in scoring (46.8 points per game) and 20th in total offense (492.8 yards), they’re a middling 85th in passing (212.2).
Meyer was frustrated enough by quarterback Braxton Miller’s three turnovers against Northwestern that he considered yanking him for supersub Kenny Guiton in the second half.
But Miller eventually settled in. He was 7-of-15 passing for 99 yards with one interception in the first half and 8-of-11 for 104 yards with no picks after halftime.
Meyer lauded his offensive line and the thunderous runs from Carlos Hyde (26 carries, 168 yards, 3 TDs), but he’s looking for better balance.
“When you’re able to do both, that’s when you start talking about really, really good offenses,” he said.
Hitting the road: The Buckeyes have compiled the second-best recruiting class in the nation among seniors, according to 247Sports.com. But with 18 commitments, there’s still room for perhaps seven more, and OSU coaches will take advantage of some free time this week to work on filling those spots.
“You’ve got to seize the momentum when you have it,” Meyer said. “We just got done playing two prime-time, nationally televised games that we won against ranked opponents. We’re going to be out and about in full force.
“Most of the staff will be out Thursday. The entire staff will be out Friday. And then we get back and rest up and get ready for another three-game stretch.”
The Buckeyes will host Iowa and Penn State and then visit Purdue before another bye on Nov. 9.
Fickell endorsement: Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has been subjected to much criticism the last two years, but he’s got a fan in Meyer.
“He’s an incredible family man, very good football coach and very loyal soldier,” Meyer said. “I love having him on our staff. I lean on him quite a bit. He’s a great chemistry guy, and players have great respect for him. He’d make an excellent head coach someday.”
Ohio State vs. Iowa State, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, ABC, 1410