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Thursday, August 30, 2012
Defending the spread

By Austin Ward
BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Luke Fickell had a slight problem.

The Ohio State defensive coordinator had no issues with the amount of plays his unit was facing in practice since it was providing great conditioning. The Buckeyes were getting plenty of opportunities to take on guys in space, a great chance to focus on tackling fundamentals. And the variety of threats posed by the offense they were facing certainly provided no shortage of challenges throughout training camp.

But one thing the new spread offense couldn't do when the starters were installing it in August was help the defense prepare for something a bit more traditional, which forced a bit of creativity at times for the Buckeyes as they geared up for a season that starts Saturday against Miami (Ohio).

Luke Fickell
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has had a challenge in getting his Buckeyes reps against a pro-style offense in practice.
"It's the first time going through it, so it's a different experience for me," Fickell said. "What's difficult, I think, is on the guys. Maybe young linebackers, in general, where all of a sudden we go into the room and start doing some scout cards and it's, 'What do you mean a quarterback under center? What do you mean a back right behind the quarterback?'

"Some of the things that we do maybe out of the shotgun, just taking advantage [offensively], they're not used to seeing on a daily basis."

The Buckeyes could hardly afford to spare the reps for their first-team offense as they transitioned to the fast-breaking, no-huddle spread under Urban Meyer. And that forced a balancing act for the first-year coach, who may not be as intimately involved with the defense but clearly knows how important that part of the game is to winning championships.

So if Fickell told his new boss the defense needed some work against an I-formation, downhill rushing attack, then Meyer would take his second-team offense and treat it like it was Wisconsin.

"I actually go down with the twos and coach them," Meyer said. "And they're good players running the opponent's offense. I mean, that's an important area. Oregon, how does their defense get ready for USC when they run nothing like them? What I'm saying we do is give a lot of effort to making sure they are looking at what they face and what they're going to face.

"Luke Fickell's job is not to stop Braxton Miller or the spread offense, but it's to stop Miami of Ohio."

The RedHawks have a spread offense of their own to throw at the Buckeyes, though it's notably different than the one that Meyer has installed.

Miami will be trying to throw the ball all over Ohio Stadium with a talented quarterback and dynamic wide receiver, which will provide an early test for a veteran secondary and put pressure on the defensive line to create problems in the backfield. But even while focusing on his own offensive system and making sure the Buckeyes are ready to operate it for the first time, Meyer wasn't going to do it at the expense of having his defense prepared for the aerial version as he makes his debut with the program.

"Coach is very cognizant of that," Fickell said. "He's always asking, 'What can we give you guys, what do you need? We'll go twos-on-ones to get you guys exactly what you need.'

"You play against this offense day to day, there's a lot of things that make it difficult on you."

Taking it on so often obviously has its benefits for the Buckeyes. But they also made sure they were ready to play against more than themselves.