Friday, October 19, 2012

GAME PREVIEW: DEFENSE IS THE WORD FOR BUCKEYES ON SATURDAY

The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — There is no mistaking Urban Meyer's impact on the Ohio State offense this season.

So far through seven games, the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have averaged 40.4 points and 452.4 yards per game under their new head coach — 15.9 points and 134.2 yards more per contest than in 2011 under interim mentor, Luke Fickell. 

In fact, Ohio State is just 36 points away from surpassing last year's point total for the entire 13-game season. To put Meyer's fingerprint on the offense in perspective, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller — who has gone from raw freshman a year ago to a major Heisman Trophy candidate under the new coach's tutelage — is averaging 311.9 yards per game this season, just 6.3 behind the entire team's total per outing in 2011.

But as great and explosive as the Buckeyes' offense has been in 2012, that's just how porous and feeble the defense has performed. 

In the past two games against Nebraska and Indiana, the Buckeyes have surrendered 87 points and 918 yards, including 49 and 481 against the Hoosiers in last Saturday night's 52-49 victory. 

This Saturday in Columbus, the Buckeyes will host Purdue (3-3, 0-2) — a squad that's averaged 33 points per game this season.

So, does Meyer actually believe the Buckeyes can remain unbeaten simply relying on a superstar signal caller and an explosive offense with no defensive support?

"Long run, no," Meyer said. "I think temporarily it can. At some point you have to play some really good defense. The top two (in the nation) right now are Alabama and Florida, the two best defenses in America. And that's not by accident they're (ranked) one and two.

"The great teams we've had over the years, we scored some points, but at the end of the day, defense wins games."

Meyer hasn't really been involved in the defensive preparations this season, allowing defensive coaches such as Fickell to construct the unit's game plans. However, the two-time national championship coach admits he has had a sit down with the defensive staff and players since the Indiana debacle and is looking for solutions to get on track.

"Instead of just complaining and whining and making noise, we have to put a plan together," Meyer said. "That's eliminate big plays. How do you eliminate big plays? Number one: 4 to 6 seconds (of intensity on each play). Number two: (shore up) missed tackles. And number three: leverage on the ball. 

"Those are the three things, not that we haven't coached hard, but you get what you emphasized. I'm not a big believer in screaming and yelling and throwing Gatorade bottles against the wall. Sometimes you have to do that, however, to fix what the problem is."

Of course, Meyer doesn't have to do that at this point, because no matter how bad things have been from a statistical standpoint on defense, the fact remains the Buckeyes are still undefeated and moral is still high.

"We have a long way to go," Meyer said. "The good thing is when you coach a team that's 7-0, you have their attention. It's fragile when other things happen, bad things happen. 

"The will is there, the want is there, we've just got to do a better job.

"I think my job is to support our staff, support our players," Meyer continued. "The one thing, the overall theme of our team is 4 to 6 seconds and I can coach that really well. We're going to demand 4 to 6 seconds of relentless pursuit and effort. 

"If you don't, I'll be involved."

Bottom Line

I believe the Buckeyes' defense will improve this weekend. I mean, it has to, right? 

The Buckeyes have given up big plays all season long, but I believe the 49 points surrendered to Indiana last weekend elevated the alert to DEFCON 1 — hence why Meyer is now peeking his head inside the defensive team meeting room.

Of course, even if the Buckeyes don't pay heed to the coach's calling, I just don't believe the Boilermakers have the firepower on offense, or the athletes on defense to slow down the dynamic and confident Miller at the 'Horseshoe.'

Look for the Buckeyes move to 8-0 under Meyer, by riding the arm and legs of their Heisman hopeful quarterback.

Prediction: OSU 49-20