By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS — Could you blame Urban Meyer if he feels a little like a parent who has successfully pushed his kid to raise his grade in geometry and then sees the same kid’s biology grade slip?
While Ohio State’s offense has gradually improved over the last few games, the defense seems to have taken at least a small step back.
In the first three games of the season, OSU’s defense looked like it was on its way to being a dominant unit. But the last three games have set off a few alarm bells.
It started in a relatively easy 38-12 win over Western Michigan three weeks ago when the Broncos had drives of 16 plays, 14 plays and 12 plays.
The next week the Buckeyes had to bat down a fourth-down pass in the end zone on the final play to preserve a 34-27 win over Indiana.
Last Saturday, a Maryland team in the final stages of getting its coach fired put up 28 points in a 49-28 win, though the final touchdown for the Terrapins was a gift, set up by a snap over quarterback J.T. Barrett’s head.
Going into Saturday night’s game against Penn State, Ohio State’s defense has given up 189 yards, 176 yards and 182 yards on the ground in its last three games. Maryland quarterback Perry Hills had a 75-yard run a week after Indiana’s Zander Diamont outran the defense for a 70-yard touchdown.
In the high-scoring world of college football in 2015, maybe those are not particularly alarming statistics. But Ohio State’s defense was expected to provide a rock solid foundation while the offense figured things out.
When OSU was tied 21-21 early in the third quarter against Maryland, there were lots of questions about the defense. But they were forgotten when the offense ran off28 unanswered points.
Safety Vonn Bell said OSU’s defense was “humbled by it” after giving up 386 yards and four touchdowns to Maryland.
“We’re the No. 1 team in the country so we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. You have to weather the storm and keep playing football,” he said.
The other starting safety, Tyvis Powell, said, “For a lot of defensive players, we weren’t really happy at the end of the day. We did get the win, so that is something to celebrate. But we know we have to get better.”
Meyer thinks the concern about the defense is overdone. “Defensively, I like where we’re at,” he said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “That (the Maryland game) is two weeks in a row that we basically eliminated the run other than the quarterback run.”
Maryland’s running backs combined for 83 yards and Indiana’s Jordan Howard and Devine Redding had 79 yards between them.
Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said, “There is nothing that has happened to us this year that is not correctible. It’s disappointing, it makes you sick, it looks bad statistically. But it’s nothing that isn’t correctible.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.