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Ohio State Buckeyes Need a Big Day from the Defense vs San Diego State Aztecs
As the Ohio State Buckeyes host the San Diego State Aztecs for an afternoon matchup in Columbus, all eyes will likely be again on Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller. After a sub-par opening outing marred by leg cramps, the Buckeyes’ signal-caller will look to get on track early and often against the Buckeyes’ out of conference foe.
While the majority of the world will be focused on Miller, the side of the ball Buckeyes fans should be most concerned about is the defense. While giving up 20 points (technically 13 because of Miller’s interception return for a touchdown) isn’t the biggest of knocks on a defense, it was the manner in which they played that should have many worrying.
After losing seven starters coming into the season, we all knew there would be growing pains for the defensive unit. On top of that, the Buckeyes were without starting cornerback Bradley Roby due to suspension and starting safety C.J. Barnett—thus pushing the total of missing starters from 2012 to nine. Any unit, playing against a MAC team or SEC team, with the odds stacked against them like that is bound to struggle in their first contest of the year.
However, the Buckeyes’ defense looked even worse than a group of newcomers making their debut on the big stage. Their defensive strategy was weak, playing a lot of zone and way off receivers the Buckeyes corners should have been jamming. Instead of setting the tone early, Buffalo’s quarterback threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense was only able to get to him for one interception.
The final stat line doesn’t tell the true story of the game, as the Buckeyes forced one turnover and gave up just 258 total yards while racking up 460 yards of their own. The defensive front looked as if they were having a tough time generating pressure, and if you take away the Buckeyes’ big 23-point first quarter explosion, they were actually outperformed 20-17 over the final three quarters.
Head coach Urban Meyer noticed the lack of an ability to finish, stating, “I preached all week about coming out fast and playing hard, and they did it. Two quick scores, the first quarter (went by the) script. You can’t play much better than our guys did. And then we rough a punter, and we have a fourth down (play) we don’t make and then we throw a screen and it goes the other way. In a tight game, you’re going to lose.”
Meyer’s final words, “in a tight game, you’re going to lose,” should ring very loudly for the Buckeyes—especially their defense. As a unit, they generated just one sack from Noah Spence—who chipped in two tackles for a loss on the day. Buffalo, on the other hand, was able to get to Miller four times. Yes you read that correctly, the Buckeyes defense was bested 4-1 by a MAC team when it comes to sacks.
As the Buckeyes host San Diego State—a team that was destroyed 40-19 by Eastern Illinois last week—getting to the quarterback and turning up defensive aggressiveness should be priority No. 1. If Eastern Illinois was able to force five turnovers—four being interceptions—against the Aztecs, this should be a wake-up call for the Buckeyes’ defense.
Led by the return of Roby and Barnett, the secondary should put much more pressure on receivers this week—thus allowing the defensive front more time to get to the quarterback, hopefully. If they fail to do so, next week against California—who lost to Northwestern in week one—could be much more of a challenge than many thought.
The Aztecs likely won’t pose much of a challenge, but this is a very important tune-up game before heading west next week. With more weapons than their first two opponents combined, Cal will look to expose the Buckeyes’ vanilla defensive ways if it continues again this week. Thus, setting the tone early with an aggressive defense is not only important against the Aztecs, but in setting the tone for the rest of the season for Meyer and the Buckeyes.
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