Putting 11 people on the field to try to stop another 11 introduces many potential variables, so that can become a very tall task.
He joked he might be better off coaching basketball “because then I could coach everybody. You coach every position,” but then acknowledged he might just have to adjust to the different personnel he has at a place like Ohio State compared to previous stops such as Duke and Oklahoma State.
“I think in the evaluation process, it’s a real balance and what changes do I need to make as a play caller? Because I’m not always going to be able to win the play for the defense,” Knowles said. “I think (former head coach) David Cutcliffe tried to teach me that a long time ago at Duke, and I’ve gotten better at it because there you’re always trying to win the play. You’re always trying to say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna put this guy here because that’s gonna do this and do that.’ And it’s a constant evaluation process on my part, particularly now at Ohio State, where you’re not always going to have to have the perfect call.”
As he did in the immediate aftermath of a stunning 45-23 loss to Michigan last month that featured five touchdowns of 45 yards or more, Knowles sought to take the blame for what went wrong rather than let it fall on the players.
“Nothing is perfect in this game,” he said. “If it was, we’d be playing on a computer, but we’re still dealing with humans.
“I think it’s easy and a copout as a coach to say, ‘Well, that guy blew this particular play or he didn’t get it right and I coached him on that.’ Well, I didn’t. I didn’t do a good enough job. If he didn’t show up in the game doing it right, then the fingers need to be pointed back to me, and then say, ‘Okay, what did I call? Why did I call it? Why did we not finish that play? And those are the things that keep me up at night and just keep working on it and grinding on it.”
The players who spoke this week all expressed confidence in the system Knowles has put in place.
“Definitely I think sometimes people forget what our defense has done all year and how they performed all year,” safety Lathan Ransom said. “But the end of the day, our defense didn’t come to play at the biggest game of the season. So now we are at the bigger game of the season and we’re excited to see what our defense really about.
“I think we’re really prepared because at the end of the day, no matter what checks they make or calls they make, we’re gonna call a defense, and all we got to do is execute and do our jobs. And that’s how a defense is successful against an offense like that.”
Ohio State vs. Georgia, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410