Tag Archives: Luke Fickell

Does Ohio State need a win at MSU to become Ohio State again?

Urban Meyer made no attempt to hide the fact Ohio State has something more than a win or even prime position in the conference race on the line Saturday night at Michigan State.

The Buckeyes are also playing to regain their position as the top dog in the Big Ten, or as he put it, “the respect Ohio State deserves.” (Read more: Meyer: Buckeyes playing for ‘respect Ohio State deserves’ | FOX Sports.)

The head coach was sure to point out Ohio State still has only one true rival, though, reiterating something he said during the summer.

Meyer: Buckeyes playing for 'respect Ohio State deserves' | FOX Sports

 

When Meyer was done, assistant coaches Tom Herman, Tim Hinton and Luke Fickell had a lot of interesting things to say about the Buckeyes and the Spartans, including some flashbacks to last year’s Big Ten Championship game and a fair amount of Xs and Os. That comes as no surprise given the stature Michigan State’s defense – imported from Ohio – has gained over the past few years under Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi.

Monday was also a big day for the program’s future as Torrance Gibson, on of the top quarterback prospects in the country, gave a verbal commitment to Ohio State from his school in Florida.

Gibson is the second signal caller to commit to Ohio State for 2015, joining Joey Burrow of Athens, Ohio. While signing two quarterbacks in one year has been rare at Ohio State over the past 15 years, history shows it could have some tremendous results for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State football: The Song Remains The Same

The first game week of the season brings with it the first 2014 edition of my “Cus Words” column at BuckeyeSports.com.

After an eventful offseason that took a surprising turn toward the end, where do the Buckeyes stand heading into the Navy game?

I am curious to see the effects of Urban Meyer’s intense efforts to remake the culture of the program. Although he took responsibility, I think at least some of it is residue from the Jim Tressel era. That’s not to say it is from something Tressel was doing wrong but rather that these two coaches were not necessarily looking for the same attitude in a recruit.

Cus Words: The Song Remains The Same – Ohiostate – Scout.

Buckeye defense hoping for 1996 redux

On the second day of Ohio State’s 2014 preseason football camp, Luke Fickell said this was the first offseason since he returned to his alma mater as a coach in 2002 that there was reason to feel bad about how the defense had finished the season.

That got me thinking about another season that ended with national title hopes going up in smoke in large part because of a defensive letdown — 1995.  Fickell practice headshot

Now the Ohio State defensive coordinator, Fickell was a junior in this third year as the starting nose guard for the Buckeyes that season, and Ohio State rose to No. 2 in the national polls in November, the highest ranking for the program in over a decade.

Most of that success was on the back of a national top 10 offense that featured the best running back (Eddie George), wide receiver (Terry Glenn) and offensive lineman (Orlando Pace) in the country as well as first-team All-Big Ten players at quarterback (Bobby Hoying) and tight end (Rickey Dudley).

The Ohio State defense boasted All-Big Ten players at defensive end (Mike Vrabel and Matt Finkes) and cornerback (Shawn Springs) and finished 12th in the nation in points allowed (16.7 per game), but it wasn’t on the same level as the scoring unit. That much was proven on the final day of the regular season as the Buckeyes traveled to Ann Arbor and saw their perfect season ruined by 12th-ranked Michigan, which got a record 313 yards rushing from Tim Biakabutuka en route to a 31-23 upset. Continue reading Buckeye defense hoping for 1996 redux

Ohio State Football Week 8: Stop Breaking Down Blues

This week the column takes its title from a Robert Johnson standard that The Rolling Stones (among others) do a great version of. I think it sums up the feelings of Ohio State fans, players and coaches alike as the Buckeye offense roars and the defense struggles.

What we learned last week: Postseason bans don’t do much to dampen expectations at a place like Ohio State.

Sometimes waiting an extra day to write this column pays off in a little extra perspective. Sometimes it might suffer from that, too, but I’ll take the good with the bad.

In this case, the first inclination is to look at the last image of Ohio State’s 52-49 victory over Indiana and hold that up as the representation of the entire night. I’m not quite sure that’s wise, though.

To be sure, this is no great defense Ohio State is fielding in its 100th season in the Big Ten. “Inconsistent at best” is probably the kindest way I could accurately describe it at this point in time.

However, things might not be as dire as some are making them out to be.

I just think in general this team is still working out some of the mental issues that came with the NCAA-related strife of the end of 2010 through last season.

Many of these guys have been through a lot, and those who haven’t are too young to know what they don’t know.

The schizophrenia of this team is mind-boggling at times, but maybe it shouldn’t be. My theory now is that these guys are just showing the signs of any team that falls behind early in a game.

Rallying takes more energy than holding steady or running in the lead. At least that is the conventional wisdom, so let’s take it as fact for the sake of this discussion.

The thing about falling behind is it is stressful. Having stress is more energy-consuming than not because it necessarily means we have more to think about than when we aren’t worrying. And so as a consequence of this stress there is a never-ending desire to exhale. That is where rallying becomes difficult. It is not only an energy drain but also a distraction.

I think the core of this Ohio State team has just been trying to catch up so long it can’t ever get an even keel. Then throw the added stress of having to learn a new system and to adjust to the new psychology of a different coaching staff, and perhaps there just isn’t enough energy to go around.

And so you get what we had there last week.

One of the most easily forgotten parts of sports is the role of human nature. Why do you suppose that is? Shouldn’t it be the first thing we consider when we analyze our games? After all, that’s the stuff that draws us to them in the first place. The raw, honest emotion and the unpredictability of an event without a script. Nothing brings out human nature more freely than that, so why fight the result? But we all do, myself included.

Did the Ohio State defense let up with a big lead last Saturday night? You bet it did. Is that a big surprise? I suppose not.

Is it a bad sign for the future? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it turns out to be a positive. Maybe it’s a wakeup call and such a thing won’t happen again.

Maybe this wounded pride will provide motivation to work harder later this season and yield better results against better opponents.

Or maybe it will go in one ear and out the other, another potential lesson flittering away with the ashes of a disastrous finish to last season when the defense never could seem to get a good grasp on anyone as injuries took their toll down the stretch.

Seeing the same mistakes repeat themselves is striking. I think there are problems with the scheme, but I think they can be worked out. I think there are players who probably should be replaced sooner or later, even if that means next year is the soonest it could happen in some cases.

Such is life in college football, where there are not trade-deadline deals to bolster a roster but sometimes a 19-year-old has the light go on in November. Suddenly things that did not make sense in the heat of August click with the falling of the leaves. Sometimes they don’t.

I guess we’ll have to watch next week to see, either way.

What we can expect to learn this week: Maybe nothing more than what’s next.

Ohio State has defensive deficiencies that aren’t going to be worked out in one week’s time, but the Buckeyes can start the road back to respectability without hesitation if they tighten up their effort and focus.

And as far as troublesome schemes, Purdue practically provides a mulligan for the Buckeyes this week following the Hoosiers’ success with their spread offense.

The Boilermakers bring a better scoring unit (and Indiana’s wasn’t bad) to the Horseshoe this weekend, and they will play a similar style to the one that has been giving Ohio State fits for much of the season. Actually, to be more accurate, Purdue brings better skill players while the scheme might be a bit inferior to that of hurry-up spread guru Kevin Wilson at Indiana. That is really probably splitting hairs, though.

Purdue was also just decimated on defense by a previously struggling Wisconsin team, so there should be another good chance for the Ohio State offense to continue to evolve.

One would think the motivation that was lacking last week is built in this week. That the Buckeyes would have a hard time getting fired up to face Indiana after back-to-back revenge games was practically guaranteed.

By contrast, they play host this week to a team that has tormented them twice in the last three years and therefore could be cruising for a bruising.

There is so much to deal with in a year of transition that expecting all holes that pop up to be filled is probably unrealistic. That’s why teams don’t win national championships in the first year of a new coaching staff.

That said, I think those calling for Luke Fickell’s head on a (pizza) platter are being irrational. The scheme needs some tweaking, but the bigger problems are in execution, experience and talent on hand.

Some of the older players aren’t executing, and some of them don’t have the talent necessary to make an elite defense. Others have the ability but not the knowledge, at least not yet. Again, this is life in college football, and Ohio State is operating on a shorter leash than a lot of teams that fancy themselves top-10 squads thanks to scholarship reductions and attrition from the coaching change.

There seems to be some problems connecting the styles of defense each coach prefers, and that has not helped matters.

They seem to want more than anything to install a system that depends on individuals making reads and winning battles. That is great if it happens, but it can be a pretty big disaster if not.

Then what do you do? Well applying pressure via scheme is not so easy as pressing a button with a controller. It still has to involve players playing off each other, a cohesive plan for a cohesive unit.

And somewhere in there, Fickell and company seem to be getting lost.

They certainly could still find their way, be it now or with the benefit of an offseason to reevaluate things.

I do think he needs to learn to let it go a little more, to trust his guys, be they old or young.

With nothing really to lose this season, one would think that wouldn’t be tough to do, but then again I guess we already learned about expectations, now and forever.

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Overheard at Ohio State Football: UAB Week

URBANISMS

In hindsight, he liked that the Buckeyes’ 35-28 win over California last week was of the come-from-behind variety.

(See BuckeyeSports.com for word on team awards and injuries.)

Jordan Hall looked really rusty, but they are glad to have him back. He told Meyer he saw about 70 yards he left on the field when he went back and watched the film.

Meyer called the penalties committed by the offense very alarming and something he must get fixed as the head coach. They were bad and often ignorant penalties.

Defensively, they have to stop allowing big plays. The offense had too many three-and-outs, and it has not produced as many explosive plays as Meyer wants to see from the running game (aside from Braxton Miller).

They want highlight-reel plays from someone besides Miller and Devin Smith. Hall could be a big-play guy, as could Carlos Hyde. Hall needed to pick up his feet a few times as he was going through the line Saturday and he could have made a few more big gains, but in general they just need to break more tackles and make people miss more often. That’s what is happening to his defense, by the way.

He wondered if perhaps the tackling had suffered because of how much of an emphasis the coaches put on forcing turnovers in the spring and preseason. There were times they went for a strip instead of securing the tackle first. They normally only tackle once a week in practice but could go to twice (More on defensive struggles).

Someone asked about the “pop pass” Miller threw to Jake Stoneburner on Saturday and Meyer explained it came from his days at Utah when he started using a tight end as another direct-snap running threat because Alex Smith wasn’t a great runner. Eventually they added a pass to the package, and Tim Tebow later made this famous.

Left tackle Jack Mewhort has been a model student in his time at Ohio State other than his public urination/fleeing police episode during the summer. That was a stupid mistake, but Meyer liked how he responded and liked how his father responded, which was “not pleasant.” Mewhort has probably been their best offensive lineman so far.

As he has said before, Meyer said the team is average right now. They play fairly well at times but make mistakes others. He is ready for some “non-adversity games” but doesn’t expect any of those the rest of the way with the Big Ten coming up. He likes his team and the way the guys approach getting ready for games, noting he saw a bunch of them loading up iPads with scouting reports Monday on their day off.

The offense needs to take some more shots down the field, but there is risk reward. He wants to maintain a passing percentage of 70 percent and stay on schedule, something that doesn’t happen if you go deep on first down and don’t hit it.

The best thing about the first three weeks on offense is Smith has emerged as a “go get it guy.”

Meyer gets more involved in the play calls late in close games, particularly on offense. The defense is doing fine schematically but needs to play better. One problem teams are giving the Buckeyes is how they attack the OSU defense in the boundary.

He can’t remember being around a defense that has given up so many big plays. The need to be more sound in the boundary.

All three teams they have prepared for so far have come out defensively in something other than they had showed before or last season. That is frustrating, but it probably won’t be true anymore after this week.

He watched some of the Michigan State-Notre Dame game on Saturday night and believes the Spartans have a top-5 or so defense and have for a few years.

The Buckeyes struggled in the third quarter Saturday because of penalties at the wrong time and lack of execution. Those led to a lot of very challenging down and distance situations (third and long).

He has talked to Miller about just playing and not overthinking amid all the talk about his running too much. He doesn’t want him to get in his own head. Going forward he expect teams to defend Ohio State in a way that he has the ball in his hands less. (That could lead to more designed runs for Miller if teams consistently give him a “give” look on the zone read/inverted veer.)

Meyer is impressed with Miller’s progress since last year. A lot of times freak athletes have just been getting by on their athleticism so long they don’t know how to work hard to prepare, but he has made great strides in that regard. He practices better than he did even in the spring. He made two grown-man throws to Smith on Saturday.

He saw in Miller’s eyes after he threw the fourth-quarter interception that he wanted the game in his hands with a chance to atone. Some would shrink from that opportunity.

The game-winning touchdown pass came on a play where Philly Brown was the intended receiver on a short pattern but the defense doubled him and Smith was left wide open deep after Miller broke from the pocket.

Asked about Christian Bryant and his tendency to make both big plays and big mistakes, Meyer said as guys develop as players, they start to see the big picture more and develop a sense of when to go for it and when to be safe. Bryant is a “rock-star type” of player who wants to make things happen, and Meyer has had conversations about that with him. He has been great in those talks about staying within himself and the defense.

He said if the time comes for Miller to be touted as a real Heisman candidate, that could be fun. He liked it in the past with players such as Tebow, but Miller isn’t playing well enough for that talk yet.

Someone asked about facing John Peterson, the former tight ends coach who is now on staff at UAB, and Meyer said he is a great guy who was here as a player when Meyer was a graduate assistant in the mid-80s. He did not retain Peterson because he wanted to have guys familiar with his style of offense so they could be on the same page when drawing things up.

Assistants added:

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said the staff had to adjust on the fly in the first half when Cal came out in a four-man front instead of the “Bear” defense they prepared for. Then they needed time in the third to get switched back to dealing with the Bear, although he said what they were doing in particular was not something he had seen.

Asked what has been good about the offense so far, he said the effort, especially on the offensive line. He is pleased with the growth of the wide receivers. They are not where they need to be but are improving.

When they’re good, they’re really good. Now they need to continue to be good more often. Consistency is key.

Someone asked about the pop pass Miller threw Saturday but I didn’t write down the answer because I thought it was a stupid question.

Asked about going deep, he said they need to analyze when to do it both based on risk/reward and down and distance. How the defense is playing matters, too.

He has seen a mind-boggling variety of defensive responses to Miller’s talents. In general people are trying to come up with different ways to keep 8 and 9 in the box while remaining sound.

He tries to see the game as the quarterback is seeing it, but that is difficult. The challenge every week is to give him only what he can handle. Miller is seeing the field better, and he comes over with a better explanation of what he is seeing when they talk on the sideline and adjustments need to be made. Now Miller can tell him what the problems are, which allows them to figure out how to react.

Herman gets a great vibe from how Miller has responded to learning this offense.

There are no issues with Miller’s upper body mechanics as a passer. He has a strong arm and a smooth delivery. He is still working on keeping his feet calm and getting the timing down with his upper and lower body. He throws better on the run because it is easier to keep all that stuff in balance without thinking about it too much.

He’s good in practice at keeping his feet settled down. Now he has to work on taking that into games more consistently.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said the defense wants to be sound. That is their No. 1 stress.

They have to keep leverage on the ball. He laid awake at night after watching the film but could not pinpoint one thing. There is no lack of effort. They have to make sure as coaches they stress to the guys what they are supposed to do.

Sometimes they might stress going from Point A to Point B quickly so much that fundamentals suffer. They have to recognize where point B is.

Storm Klein played about eight snaps on defense and Curtis Grant was in for about 12 at middle linebacker.

They need to be aggressive, and they opened some things up last week with some blitzes. That gives the offense more to worry about rather than just setting up for the same thing every play.

He joked that he missed the best part of being a head coach because that comes in the offseason when they get to relax a little and go on sponsored trips and things like that. It was a great experience he will use when he gets another chance. You find out who has your back when you’re in charge like that.

Players sayeth: 

Defensive lineman Nathan Williams pointed out that almost all of the live reps he is getting are in the games, so he has a lot of catching up to do with guys who have been practicing since the beginning of August. He feels he is getting better every day. He practices against the scout team and in drills but not when the first teams go against each other.

His recovery time has been amazing so far. He entered the year thinking he would only play half of the season.

He did not feel he played too many plays against Cal and said people don’t need to worry about that. He was frustrated because the Bears usually ran away from him last week and he didn’t get many chances to be in the thick of things. He was just chasing the ball all day. He is up every morning at 4:30 to get ready to work out and continue to rehab.

Mike Vrabel has a different philosophy than former defensive line coach Jim Heacock, who was a big believer in playing a lot of guys. Vrabel brings a mentality from the NFL in which the best guys play.

His penalty last week (offsetting personal fouls when he got tangled up with a Cal running back) was in the heat of the moment, but he needs to keep his cool.

Those freshmen defensive linemen are behind in most areas, but they are getting better.

Offensive lineman Marcus Hall said line coach Ed Warinner is a high-energy guy who makes sure everyone is pumped up around him.

He feels like he is getting better every game but needs to eliminate mistakes such as missed assignments.

He is playing at about 15 pounds lighter than last year and feels much different.

There was a period of time he was worried if he would be able to continue his Ohio State career as he was sitting out a redshirt for academic reasons two years ago. He had to get back in the classroom and get focused. He would tell a high school recruit to think about more than just football. Getting an education is a serious deal.

He is not a new man, per se, but he has his priorities straight now. He appreciates everything much more after having to sit out that year.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier said UAB likes to take shots downfield and run to the boundary (short side of the field). The latter is something they have seen a lot and struggled with against Cal. As a result, they have moved around and changed some alignments with the defensive line and the linebackers. They are doing something to get the safety to help, too.

It is fun when they play an aggressive style. He wants to see the quarterback rattled.

The Buckeyes have a good mindset and won’t overlook UAB.

They can work on tackling without being truly full-go. They can hit and wrap without going to the ground. They did take guys to the ground a little more this week than usual during the season, though.

He should have wrapped up Bigelow on the 81-yard run, and he slipped and was out of position on the 59-yard run. The coaches said he had a good game, but he feels those things wiped it out.

Linebacker Etienne Sabino said he doesn’t mind the grueling “Bloody Tuesday” practices. That is football. It’s fun to hit. They’re sore from the game but get out there and get going anyway.

The team gets to split its Fridays with being focused and having fun now. They play games like home run derby, hot potato and shoot the football in a basket at the WHAC then go to the OSU Golf Course for their evening meal. It lightens the mood, then they go back to work (team meetings).

Saturday they get up around 7, go to walkthrough then have position meetings and it is time to go.

(Meyer said he picked this up from Sonny Lubick, head coach at Colorado State. He taught him the guys need to get some rest and can’t be too fired up. They call it “the best Friday in football”. He started it at Bowling Green. He wants practice to be terrible during the week then Friday and Saturday are “pay day”. He talks to each guy before they go to bed on Friday night.)

Running back Jordan Hall said he didn’t know he was going to carry it 17 times last week, but he had no problem with it. He felt like he left yards on the field when he tripped over linemen because he wasn’t picking up his feet.

I asked him if getting back a guy like Carlos could give him more chances to get out on the edge and operate in space, and he said it might surprise people but he likes to run between the tackles and being physical. He hopes getting some more reps will make it easier for him to see holes develop and what he needs to do with the ball when he gets it. He feels better with some more practice under his belt.

Wide receiver Devin Smith said the offense needs to be efficient. He didn’t have much reaction when asked if they feel any pressure being 38-point favorites.

UAB looks kind of like UCF on film. The Blazers have some talented guys.

The key to avoiding all the penalties that have held them back is staying focused. That is the message from Meyer. That is what they have been doing in practice. The staff has trained them to play with passion and play their hearts out.

Two Buckeye Football Strategy Tidbits

I was hoping for a little more, but there were two things to latch onto from a strategy standpoint that came out of the 2012 Ohio State signing day press conference with Urban Meyer, Luke Fickell and Tim Hinton last week.

Fickell dodged a question about how the defense might change with him taking over as full-time defensive coordinator and a few new pieces on the staff, but Meyer talked as if the basic front will remain the same with a “Leo” end on one side and a strong end on the other.

“I like to call them an open end,” Meyer said of defensive end Noah Spence. “In our defense we call them the Leo, but he is a guy that lines up outside and acceleration up the field is what you are looking for and he has that. Adolphus (Washington) and Se’Von Pittman are more of the wider body guys that are going to be more power rushers. I think that was the prize of the recruiting class.”

Urban Meyer talks about the 2012 class

Fickell did at least indicate they will continue to have a nose and 3-technique when he talked about Tommy Schutt, a five-star tackle from Illinois.

“Tommy is the one true guy you can say is going to be an inside guy,” Fickell said. “He enjoys that. He doesn’t want to hear about the edge. He could be a nose or a 3-technique. We don’t define that. So for us it gives us a lot of balance. I think Tommy, knowing he’s a true inside guy, Noah being a true outside guy, then Adolphus and Se’Von being guys with great versatility that can be able to play the field or boundary side end, I think the versatility is the thing you like best.”

There is certainly no shortage of candidates to play that big end/5-technique position if that is where Washington and Pittman are headed. It’s been interchangeable personnel-wise with the 3-technique guys the past three seasons, but I wonder if those days are over considering the lack of pass rush the group has generated and Meyer’s love of overall team speed. John Simon, Michael Bennett, Kenny Hayes and perhaps Chase Farris probably can stay outside, but I would not be surprised if Johnathan Hankins’ occasional days at end are over. Ditto Adam Bellamy, who is a good athlete for a 300-pounder but probably better suited to play only inside unless the opponent is running the wing-t. I haven’t seen enough of Darryl Baldwin to figure out where he might fit. I’m going to guess J.T. Moore is likely to flip over to the 5-technique as well, although that leaves only three Leos, one of whom is coming off major knee surgery (Nathan Williams), a highly recruited sophomore who has barely played (Steve Miller) and a true freshman (Spence). Could Etienne Sabino move to Leo? Hmmm….

Senior Garrett Goebel returns at nose guard, where I think we could also see sophomore Joel Hale and Schutt. Maybe Hankins, too? There are some possibilities.

As for point No. 2, Meyer also explained why they need another speed guy on offense, something they had not found yet as of signing day.

“I would say some of the things we like to do offensively that you’re going to hear us talk about, we want the defense to defend the width and length of the field,” Meyer said. “There’s only one way to defend the width, that’s flat speed. We’ve tried it. There’s no other way that you can make a defense defend the entire width of the field.”

“There’s ways to make them defend it vertically. Ideally you’d like speed there, too. We’ve tried it. In our offense, we’re still lacking that game-changer that you can hand the ball to speed-wise. I think we got some bigger guys, but we’re still looking for a difference maker in one of those 10.4 100-meter guys that can change the game.”

I found that an interesting little peak into his philosophy and an acknowledgment of some of the relative strengths and weaknesses of both spread and power football. The space you create with the formation is only good if you can take advantage of it by getting there first (beating the defender there). There are, on the other hand, ways to pull defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, thus making it easier to get behind them even without merely winning a footrace, and those are often easier to execute and more effective when you’re more bunched up.

There are plenty of Buckeyes who can burn but no true blazers.

For some perspective, current Buckeye Devin Smith won the Ohio Division I 100-meter championship last spring in 10.74 and fellow wide receiver Philly Brown ran a 10.65 at the 2010 Philadelphia Catholic League championship meet.