Defense finds more trouble

Pass rush improves, but Buckeyes tackle poorly against Golden Bears

Updated: September 18, 2012, 10:37 AM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- One week it was miscommunication and breakdowns in the secondary.

Ohio State worked to correct that, but then it couldn't get enough pressure on the quarterback.

The Buckeyes patched that up with six sacks on Saturday, only to find another issue popping up with missed tackles leading to long touchdowns and piles of yardage conceded in a narrow, 35-28 win over California.

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireLuke Fickell seemingly has something new to try to fix each week with Ohio State's defense.
Every week has seemingly brought something new to keep Luke Fickell up late watching film while everybody else in his house sleeps, and this time it's back to the basics for the defensive coordinator after an inconsistent start for his unit with the unbeaten Buckeyes.

"I mean, every week you're going to have a little something different," Fickell said. "We're still obviously new in what we're doing, not that we've changed a ton, but sometimes when you're overaggressive, [bad] things can happen. We just have to continue to understand what we're doing, why we're doing it, play fundamentally sound and don't make a habit of every week where you can make an excuse.

"Is there an exact thing, something each and every week we're focusing on? I think it's just understanding fundamentally what we're doing, playing sound but still playing with great effort and energy."

The coaching staff hasn't yet had to ask publicly for more intensity from the defense after three games, but it would clearly like some better outcomes from the Buckeyes for that effort.

Despite already coming up with six interceptions, the secondary has been gouged for a few big plays because of missed assignments in the passing game. In order to give the defensive backs a bit of help, Ohio State leaned on the line to create some pressure -- and somewhere along the way, they failed to set the edge against the rush and gave up 224 yards on the ground and an 81-yard touchdown that was the longest the Buckeyes had ever allowed at Ohio Stadium.

There have been schematic issues, which apparently already has led to adjustments in team meeting rooms on Sunday as the Buckeyes prepare to close out their nonconference schedule this week against Alabama-Birmingham. But the more troubling development for coach Urban Meyer was the inability to finish tackles against the Golden Bears, which will apparently produce another notable change in the way the program does business on the practice field.

"I know we tackle more than anybody, but obviously that's not getting the job done," Meyer said. "So we've got to tackle more, so instead of one day a week, we'll probably go two now.

"That's absolutely not acceptable, so let's get it fixed. There's no magic wand, and we've got our personnel -- personnel, I don't believe is an issue. We've got to make tackles, which means we've got to tackle better in practice and we've got to make sure our schemes are a little more sound into the boundary area. We're working on that now."

The two critical days to do it come quickly for the Buckeyes, the first of which is notoriously intense anyway given Meyer's preference for physical, hard-hitting workouts known as "Bloody Tuesday."

That session will take on even more importance after his defense was tagged for 512 yards by Cal, but the next one could be just as taxing as Ohio State goes to work on its latest cleanup project.

"Believe me, I laid awake Saturday night as I watched that thing as everybody else in the house sleeps, and I couldn't pinpoint one exact thing," Fickell said. "The things that ultimately end up hurting you, whether it's a missed tackle or a missed assignment, those are the things we've got to clear up, whether it's in the back end or the front or wherever. They're all tied together.

"We've got to play with great fundamentals."

The Buckeyes are going to get an extra practice to make sure that message is understood.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter