COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s 45-31 season-opening win over Minnesota last week was marked by a number of big plays from the Buckeyes offense that kept the Gophers at an arm’s length through much of the game. But while the Ohio State offense continued to display an explosiveness that has become commonplace under head coach Ryan Day, lingering concerns about the other side of the ball went mostly unanswered in a lackluster effort by the Buckeye defense.
During Tuesday’s weekly press conferences, Day and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs discussed, among other things, the strides left to be made by the Ohio State defense as they prepare for a top-15 showdown with the Oregon Ducks on Saturday.
“A lot of good, a lot of bad. I thought we played really hard, played physical. I thought that was a good, encouraging thing,” Coombs said. “I thought we improved on some things from last season, played a lot of young guys. But I think there is a lot of room for improvement, and I think that’s what week one, week two is all about.”
Perhaps most puzzling to all who watched Ohio State and Minnesota was the excessive defensive substitutions the Buckeyes made seemingly on every play. A total of 24 different Buckeyes played recorded at least one snap in the game despite most of the contest being played within two scores. While the coaching staff is undoubtedly still trying to figure out who his best options are at various positions, Day said on Tuesday that much of the substituting had as much to do with what Minnesota was doing as it did anything his team was trying to accomplish.
“I think that one of the things that you saw in that game is they were changing personnel a lot. They would go from 11 personnel to 13 with an extra tackle in the game,” Day said. “So, when you make that big of a jump from 11 to 12, 13, we wanted to match personnel in that game because we felt like, based on their style of play, that was really important. What you saw in that game looked like a New York sidewalk at times, guys coming in and guys are coming out. I thought (the officials) could have given us a little more time to sub; it seemed a little rushed at times. But that was unique to that game.”
However, while Day allude to the defensive rotations being dialed back to some degree when Oregon comes to town this weekend, he reiterated that the Buckeyes will continue to play depth. Asked if he would prefer to narrow down the rotation as the season progresses, Coombs responded by saying, “Absolultely,” before stating there’s a process to narrowing that rotation down.
“We’re still finding our way, and we’re still figuring out exactly who the best players and the best combinations in the best situations are. The only way to do that is to get some game experience, so we played a lot of guys who deserved to play,” Coombs said.
Coombs was complimentary of his team’s ability to force the always-critical turnovers, including a touchdown on a fumble recovery by Haskell Garrett, as well their success in limiting explosive plays. Both Coombs and Day were weren’t quite as impressed with the Buckeyes’ level of tackling, though, with each expressing a need to get better in getting ball carriers to the ground.
“There are some good things for sure. There were also some missed tackles. The fourth down and one (run) was disappointing that we let him squirt out like that, but there weren’t a ton of explosive plays and that was good,” Day said. “First off, they had a great running back there in (Mohamed) Ibrahim … He broke some tackles. We also got him on the ground sometimes. Do I think it was great? No. Do I think it was awful? No. It was somewhere in between.”
Asked how we would balance practicing tackling with not risking injuries, Coombs said, “You have to work on it. We have to improve, so we have to work on it. We tackled yesterday (in practice), we’ll tackle today.”
The biggest boost Ohio State could see on Saturday is a fully healthy secondary, although the statuses of three key Buckeyes remain unknown. Both Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, the two projected starters at cornerback, were held out of last week’s opener, while safety Josh Proctor was lost to an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter.
Day, when asked about the health of the seconadry trio on Tuesday, declined comment while pointing to Ohio State’s availability report released on Saturday morning as being the eventual update.
Ohio State was forced to play without its projected top-two cornerbacks in Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown. Their statuses, along with that of safety Josh Proctor, who was hurt late in the opener, remains unknown
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.