Tag Archives: Mike Vrabel

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 Coaches Clinic: Mike Vrabel talks leverage

Previously I posted remarks from Urban Meyer as well as assistants Kerry Coombs and Tom Herman.

Here is what Mike Vrabel had to say about how they teach leverage and preventing big plays:

OSU defines explosive plays as runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Vrabel showed an internal study that found they have averaged allowing 15 explosive runs per season in the past 12 years, then noted the 2011 team that finished 6-7 gave up 25. In contrast, the 2009 team that won the Rose Bowl only allowed nine. (NOTE: They count bubble screens and the like as runs.)

They stress five things in teaching players how to play defense: effort, leverage, tackle, retrace and pursuit.

Effort is covered by the of-repeated mantra from Meyer about going hard for 4-6 seconds every play. The don’t coach effort – they demand it. Meyer runs a high-energy program. They want to get guys out of their comfort zone and don’t mind keeping guys on edge.

For part of this section, he put Ohio State’s goal line stand at Wisconsin last season on the big screen to emphasize that really only effort was going to make that happen. The offense is going to scheme up something to cover gaps and get a yard, so someone has to whip somebody’s ass and make a play. The Montee Ball fumble was made possible by guys up front winning their battles so someone could meet him at the pile and knock the ball away.

Leverage is the most important concept. They only need one leverage guy, though. One person turns the play back in and everyone else should be running to the ball.

Every day they do a leverage drill with four parts – string out, “hat and hands”, “rip and run” and angle tackle. Stringing out the play and angle tackling are self-explanatory. “Hat and hands” is what they call delivering a two-handed blow to the blocker and controlling him to establish position. “Rip and run” is what happens when they brush by a blocker either in pursuit or to get to an outside point to turn a play back in if no one has leverage. (So engage the blocker to maintain leverage abut rip and run to get it back if lost.)

Defensive backs, linebackers and linemen all practice all of these drills, and coaches should see them expressed in games or that means they aren’t being done correctly.

Of course then tackling was a big emphasis. He put up a chart showing a 12-year study that revealed they have averaged 9.7 missed tackles per game in that span. The number in 2002 was 8.2. In 2011, it was 12.5.

They break tackles down into three categories: in the box, angle and open field. Obviously, angle are the easiest and open field are the hardest. That is why the offense – especially now – wants to create open field opportunities.

OSU coaches expect leverage and effort. They coach up tackling by emphasizing keeping the ball on the outside shoulder, breaking down 3-4 yards from impact (too soon gives the ball carrier too much time to change direction), coming to balance in a football position and getting a guy on the ground.

In the open field, they don’t care about blowing a guy up. That’s not the time to do it. Just get him down. They also tell guys, “Don’t go off the diving board,” meaning keep proper football position – reverse arch the back, feet shoulder width apart, head and chest up, shoulders pinched.

Retrace is for dealing with things like screens. It’s how they teach players to recover after getting pressure. For defensive linemen, they work on planting the feet, pointing playside and driving down the line of scrimmage while keeping low hips.

Pursuit is simple – run with great effort to the ball, having confidence everyone is doing their job. That means someone has established leverage and everyone else just has to clean up.


Overheard at Ohio State Football: Illinois Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat. 


Ohio State’s head football coach started out by stating his appreciation for the environment at Penn State. The students treated them well, and everyone was classy. The Buckeye players respected that and responded well overall to the whole deal. 

They got their best team win at State College. The defense has shown much improvement by maintaining leverage and tackling better. They also blitzed more than they have all year and played a lot of man coverage.

Zach Boren played well at linebacker but did not grade out as a champion, so Meyer wishes he would get even better. The coach has great respect for him.

Someone asked if the increase in pressure defense and man coverage came from Meyer, and he said he wasn’t sure that was the case even though he had been pushing for it. Getting C.J. Barnett back helps, too, because that is one more guy who can get in there and man up. They have always had confidence in the corners to play man, but everyone has to do it, including safeties and linebackers.

Asked about having a heart-to-heart with Jake Stoneburner a few weeks ago, Meyer said there is nothing worse than false confidence that comes from people telling you how good you are. People talked a lot about how great he was even though he had never really done a lot. Stoneburner wasn’t playing well or as involved as he wanted to be, and Meyer told him not to make excuses but to take ownership in the situation. He moved to wide receiver and had to learn how to contribute there. He is a smart kid, and he has gotten it turned around. Now Meyer sees potential for Stoneburner to play in the NFL. That is a goal of the staff, to get him there.

Someone asked if this team has the potential to be special, and he said yes. They are dealing with a lot of adversity, and there are a lot of intangibles in the locker room now. Guys are fighting for each other and refusing to lose. There is a blue collar attitude and a desire to get better.

He has no concerns about facing a friend in Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. He loves him and his dad, though.

Asked if he has a problem with Braxton Miller being too competitive at times, perhaps trying to make too much happen, Meyer said no. It is harder to teach a tiger to bite. He prefers to teach them when to bite.

Miller’s progression as a quarterback so far has been “ok.” He is a better thrower, but they are struggling to find time to work on his fundamentals to increase his improvement even more.

Talking again about the Ohio State defense, Meyer said he always had respect for the Silver Bullets even when he was watching from afar while coaching elsewhere. He feels much better about their fundamentals now. They have been working on fundamentals for 10 minutes or so a day and that seems to have had a positive effect.

Momentum is everything in college football, and that goes for not only wins but also recruiting and roster development. They aren’t looking at next year as they work on this one. They are just trying to win as many games as possible. That momentum shows up in recruiting because it makes them that much more enthusiastic about making calls to kids when they are talking about another great win.

Revisiting the Stoneburner issue, someone asked if the player had to come to grips with a new role. Meyer replied yes, and that was the problem. He should have just gotten to it, not thought about it. NFL teams tell guys what to do and move on if they don’t. Stoneburner is a really smart guy, and he might have overthought this one initially.

Miller was more confident in the second half at Penn State. It is hard to stay settled down in that atmosphere. His footwork was bad, and he was pulling away from the center too fast and panicking on his throws.

Illinois has players, but it has not played well at times this year. Meyer pointed out Illinois has had more high draft picks in recent years than Ohio State (this is true, at least if you’re just counting the first two rounds in the past three years – 7-2).

He loves seeing players develop in his program. For example, Chase Farris is “on fire” right now. He is going to be heard from at some point for Ohio State on the offensive line after converting from defense.

Regarding special teams struggles, he pointed out they have had seven different lineups for the punt team. In replacing Etienne Sabino and Zach Domicone, they have put in some guys who weren’t aware of what they needed to do their first time in there.

Upon being prodded about Miller being a candidate for the Heisman, Meyer acknowledged he does have the look of one. The quarterback still needs to play a lot better, but he must be a candidate with his production for a team that is 9-0.

Meyer has always been a huge Notre Dame fan since he grew up in a Catholic family It is great for college football when they are good. He’s seen them on some crossover film (presumably from Purdue and Michigan State) and they look very good. It is a polarizing place. When you walk into a high school wearing Notre Dame gear, people either love you or throw stuff at you.

Someone asked if he will ever manipulate the clips of the opposing team they show to the players in order to make them look better or worse than they might really be, and he said yes. He didn’t do that this week, though. (I think the gist was that he acknowledged sometimes you just include the clips of a team doing things well so your players don’t overlook them and other times you might even show mistakes to humanize the opponent and make sure they don’t seem invincible.)

He is concerned about how many punts they have had blocked, and other teams probably sense blood in the water now. They put in a different type of punt last week just to change things up. He didn’t want the punter to be just a sitting duck. He hasn’t been getting great hang time. Buchanan can do the roll kick, but they still have to protect it. They put Devin Smith on the punt coverage team because he is the fastest guy on the team. The ultimate goal is to get guys down the field to force a fair catch every time, but it isn’t happening right now.


Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said the staff decided that a few weeks ago Penn State decided not to be a game-plan offense. They identified things they do well and stuck with them every week so they could get good at them.

Freshman Noah Spence is coming on now and he understands getting onto the field is a process. He has to do stuff to earn the trust of the staff. Everybody is fast and athletic in college, so young guys have to learn techniques and whatnot.

They are excited to have Zach Boren on defense. He gets better with every rep, and he is an inspiration to the other guys. One time in particular stuck out on the film when he ran past a blocker and made a hit on the wide screen pass.

Nathan Williams has a great attitude. He is dedicated to learning and studying. Nobody plays harder. He throws his body around. There are still things he is working on in terms of technique.

They need Mike Bennett to play better. That allows them to deploy various packages based on matchups and situation. Bennett is a guy with good speed and power for his size.

The defensive staff continues the process of developing what it wants to do and what the players are capable of doing. Some carry over from past weeks has helped the scheme evolve.

Like Spence, Adolphus Washington is a young guy who has to go through the process of learning how to play at this level. He is a big, athletic guy who needs to learn to play physical and relentless. Everything was easy for him in high school. He is making progress and earning more time in various situations. Vrabel isn’t sure what will be Washington’s ultimate position, tackle or end.

Williams is trying to make the NFL, and the staff supports that. He has dedicated himself to the team, to working hard and flying around and leading.

They are approaching everything week to week and finding ways to win. Guys are believing in themselves. Last week the defense started to realize the offense will win them the game if they just get the ball back for them.

This year is important because it is much easier to get the players to believe in the process when they see results.


Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Stoneburner was always an athletic receiving tight end, but he had to get used to dealing with better athletes when he moved to receiver. He had to run better routes to beat quicker guys, basically. He couldn’t just run around them. Smith and Meyer addressed that with him and he keeps getting better ever since. Because of his progress, they work harder to get him opportunities to contribute.

Evan Spencer, who caught three passes last week, has built up more of the coaches’ confidence, so they are more apt to go to him, too. His best attribute is his commitment and his passion for the game. You can tell he is a coach’s son. He has upped his film study and is hard on himself and wants to get better. His parents raised him to be a great young man, and he understands what he needs to improve as a football player.

The team is 9-0 through the guys coming together when they’ve had to because of chemistry. They don’t want to let each other down.

Regarding the fake punt by Penn State that failed, Smith said they always practice for the base stuff a team does with its punt then watch for tips if they might do something tricky. Penn State lined up differently, so the staff alerted the players.

The wide receivers are getting better as a whole and the staff is developing confidence in more of them, so they are more comfortable with more of them playing. For example, Smith felt comfortable with Chris Fields going into the Purdue game when Philly Brown got hurt because Fields had been doing well recently in practice. Playing more guys also helps morale overall when guys actually feel like they contributed to the win rather than just being there and singing the fight song.

Devin Smith has embraced the role of gunner on the punt team, and Zach Smith would be disappointed if it were any other way.

They moved Stoneburner to wide receiver because they wanted to get him on the field and they had depth at tight end. As a consequence, he had to learn how to use his skills in a different spot on the field.

The receivers like to play with Miller because he will get the ball out quickly when he needs to and hit them with catchable passes. They also raise their play because they know even if they are running a control route (like going deep to pull coverage way from someone else) they could still end up getting the ball if Miller scrambles.

Miller has improved with his progressions. He is getting more productive each week on third downs, although Smith doesn’t grade that specifically.


Quarterback Braxton Miller said he thinks about sliding now more, unless he is close to a first down.

Asked about being a Heisman Trophy candidate, he said it’s an honor to have his name mentioned but he just tries to work hard every week and then you never know what will happen. He conceded that the style of offense Ohio State is playing will produce big plays and stats that lead to awards.

He knows he has to keep working to progress as a passer. It isn’t easy.

In regards to slow starts, they just need to stay with the game plan and get guys going.

He didn’t have any theories about why they haven’t played as well against weaker teams on the schedule, but the team does not feel any pressure being 9-0.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said every time he sees Vanderbilt highlights on ESPN he thinks about what it would be like if he had stuck with his verbal commitment to go there as a wide receiver instead of taking Ohio State’s offer to play cornerback. He doesn’t think about it long, but it is there.

He’s noticed Illinois’ receivers are struggling to get established without Jenkins (who he made some headlines about last season when he said he was nothing special). The group does look talented even though it is young.

Scheelhaase is mobile and can be dangerous if they don’t contain him.

The team has talked about not playing so well against lesser teams. It has involved some mental mistakes. They have watched teams like Alabama play at a high level every week and strive to achieve that. He feels Ohio State should dominate teams, but it hasn’t happened much this season.

The defense has been simplified and that’s helping them play more aggressively. There are fewer checks to worry about and more man coverage. It’s easier. They have fast pass rushers in John Simon, Nathan Williams and Steve Miller plus Ryan Shazier at linebacker, so that lets them pressure while the backs cover.

The defense is on the right path, but it is not perfect and needs to keep getting better.

They dominated much of the game at Penn State but let up late. They need to keep pushing through to the end in the future.

He is definitely looking forward to the open week in the schedule. He could use some rest and relaxation. He seemed to wish it had come a little earlier in the season.

Offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said he recalled sitting in the stands rooting for Illinois when the Fighting Illini knocked off the undefeated, top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007. His brother was a starting defensive lineman for that Illinois team and a very good player. Andrew wasn’t thinking about where he would be going to college at that time when he was in high school.

They’ll talk a little trash before the game, but he knows his brother will be rooting for him because blood is thicker than water.

Overheard at Ohio State: Nebraska Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 


Asked what he said to Braxton Miller after carrying the team offensively but committing three turnovers last week, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer replied, “I love you to death, but protect the ball.”

Nobody is perfect, but he is playing hard and he’s only a sophomore. On his interception, he should have thrown the ball to the flat. He jammed his knee on the second fumble, and that looked bad because it was right in front of Meyer, but he needs to hang onto the ball.

Meyer knows Miller’s high school coach, Jay Minton, very well and spent a good bit of time with him in January getting to know more about Braxton, who has spent a lot of his life getting away with things he shouldn’t do on the field because of his athleticism. He is perhaps more humble than anyone else Meyer has seen.

Meyer’s philosophy is to coach a team really hard after a win. They might be fragile when coming off a loss, but Tuesday’s practice was supposed to be one of the toughest of the year.

Nebraska has a dynamic quarterback in Taylor Martinez and a very good defense that brings some unique looks. The defensive line plays two gaps a man and the backfield engages in pattern reading, kind of like a matchup zone in basketball. That makes it hard to run some of the Buckeyes’ base passes, so they have to do some different things.

He thought the count of times they had the OSU DBs in press coverage against Michigan State was 26 (MSU ran 64 plays). That is much more than previous weeks. Meyer felt good about how the defense played other than one play.

He has a good relationship with Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was on the team in 1987 when Meyer was an OSU grad assistant. They coached against each other when Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU and Meyer was head coach at Florida. He was a real tough guy as a player and that is reflected in his personality today as a coach.

Meyer loved the reaction of the offense when it got the ball back with a chance to run the clock out in East Lansing. They were excited after seeing MSU would have to punt.

The offensive line still has only five guys they can rely on (he wants eight), but those five are doing very well. Reid Fragel, the former tight end, has really become an Ohio State offensive lineman the last two games. That is a powerful statement, Meyer said.

Zach Smith is doing a good job as wide receivers coach. His guy, Devin Smith, caught a touchdown pass to win the game last weekend, obviously. He has been coaching hard and now has developed a big-play guy in Smith and a reliable option in Corey “Philly” Brown, who is putting up numbers. The young guys are coming along, and Meyer pointed out Smith also runs the punt block team. “We finally got a frickin’ punt here,” Meyer said.

Serious injury is a concern for Miller after he went out of the last game a couple of times. He recalled the plight of Oregon when Dennis Dixon blew out his knee late in the season and the Ducks lost the rest of their games. He observed that Dixon originally committed to him at Utah before opting for Oregon. Kenny Guiton was cool and ready to go when Miller got hurt. He was already getting warmed up before the coach called for him. Guiton isn’t as talented as Miller, but the is very functional.

He wasn’t sure who would mimic Martinez on the scout team, but the defense has experience against a quarterback like him from facing Miller in the spring and preseason.

The Buckeyes came together last week in facing MSU, and he was very fired up about that.

The linebackers played better, including Ryan Shazier, a sophomore who is one of his favorite guys. Meyer didn’t realize how little Shazier played last year at first. He is someone Meyer will listen to because he talks like a man.

Regarding the video issue with Michigan State, Meyer said he asked a member of the video staff about it and it had been taken care of last Tuesday. He also said he believed the Big Ten had been made aware of the video going around of a Michigan State offensive lineman trying to poke Johnathan Hankins in the eyes.

Meyer joked he would tell Brown it is OK if he breaks a tackle at some point after catching a screen pass. That is part of the spread offense, a chance to make something happen in a one-on-one situation. They need guys who can do that. They’re an “on schedule offense” right now. They can’t rely on big plays, and they aren’t good enough to overcome being behind the chains so they can’t take a lot of big shots down the field.

The team wasn’t very close when he got here, for whatever reason, but they are now. This staff pushed the envelope and they came together over the weekend. You’re more likely to see things like that when you win against a good team on the road. Zach Boren showed his manhood with his leadership. Only six or seven of the 20-some teams he has been part of as a coach came together, so it is not a given.

This is not a great team, but it has a chance to do something special.

He regretted how vehemently he went after an official who called a personal foul on Carlos Hyde after the Buckeye running back hit an MSU punt returner above the shoulders after he fielded punt. Meyer thought the flag was for kick catch interference but saw later it was a proper call for unnecessary roughness.

Nebraska has a dynamic offense that will turn a mistake into an 80-yard gain, not eight.

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner was happy for his guys to get the player of the week recognition on offense. It validates the hard work they have put in since January. They have played hard and shown lots of improvement, but there are still things to clean up as they move forward. They understand what they want to do offensively, and that’s be physical. It was nice to finish out the game the way they did.

He was confident they would be able to run it out when they took the field and smiled to himself about it on the sideline. A lot of guys were competing in that last four minutes, including the quarterback, tight ends and running back.

The growth of the team speaks volumes for the development the staff is working on in all phases of the game. He can see confidence developing in the wide receiver and the offensive line, two position groups that got a lot of criticism in the offseason.

They are building momentum now.

Fragel works hard and is starting to play well. It’s tougher on the line than at tight end. He had to grind it out against MSU star end William Gholston, and that will be the case again against Nebraska’s ends.

That was like a 12-round boxing match for the team. There were a lot of plays that could have gone either way.

There was a lot of success here followed by a tough year and then a change in doing business. That is hard to deal with. He’s a grown man and he has been through it before, but that’s not the case for the players. They bought in quickly, maybe faster than he expected.

Warinner knows the Nebraska coordinators well from his days as a coordinator at Kansas.

They are very sound and physical. The defensive tackles will knock the guards back and the linebackers play downhill. Then they play varying coverages in the backfield. That is what Bo Pelini is known for.

He is sure the offensive line knows it has been picked on over the years here. There is a scab that is healing now. They won’t be pushed around anymore. The line wants to be able to carry the team instead of having to rely so much on the quarterback. It’s good for them to gain confidence.

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel remembers the team being ready to go at the start of the Nebraska game last year but being deflated when Miller went out with an ankle injury. He suggested that reaction might have been a result of youth. Then they got steamrolled as no one could make a play to halt the Husker momentum.

Nathan Williams is getting better as he gets farther and farther from major knee surgery, but they are still managing his health. He has done a hell of a job for them. He puts the team first. He cares about his teammates and it shows. The coach also said it is important Williams is able to practice. He can’t just get by with gaining experience in games, as Williams said he was pretty much doing the first couple of weeks.

Hankins is getting comfortable and starting to recognize plays so he can react to them. He conditioning is good, not great.

Someone asked about things that go on in piles during a football game, and Vrabel said it is pretty much anything goes as long as a ball is involved. There is no place in the game for cheap shots, chop blocks or eye-pokes in the game. He tells guys nothing is worth a 15-yard penalty.

Nebraska has a patient offense. They are really comfortable doing what they do. They will pound and pound until they break through, but they can also go over the top.

OSU had a good understanding of what Michigan State was going to do on offense, and the Buckeyes got a lift from the offense scoring right away.

Martinez’s speed makes it imperative everyone has their “fit” in the running game (that means gap covered).

Mike Bennett is coming along healthwise and adds depth for them. The other young guys are still developing.

Quarterback Braxton Miller knew something was wrong with Gholston when he was lying on top of him after a play because he wasn’t saying anything. The referee told him to lie still and not move until they could figure out what was up. Miller is glad he could get back up.

He feels better throwing the deep ball thanks to continuing to practice it.

He was mad at himself for not being able to go back in the game at Nebraska last year. He remembers they had a good game plan.

He wasn’t that sore after the game. You take big hits in the Big Ten.

He hasn’t felt like he has been overused.

He expects a crazy atmosphere at Ohio Stadium under the lights Saturday night.

Wide receiver Devin Smith said he loves making big plays, especially for his teammates. He is more than just a deep threat, though. He can make guys miss if he gets the chance.

He enjoyed the crowd last year at night against Wisconsin but expects it to be bigger this year.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier said they got lazy at times against Nebraska last year. They were lackadaisical. Remembering how that game went does provide motivation, as was the case last week with Michigan State.

He expects the stadium to be jumping Saturday with everybody into it.

The linebackers felt like they were a weak point for the defense but they have improved. They got stronger against MSU. Coach Luke Fickell has been tough on them, telling then they can be great but they weren’t showing it.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Central Florida

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State beat…


Ohio State’s head coach started out by thanking fans for their part in the Buckeyes’ 56-10 win over Miami last week.

He then went over what is apparently going to be a weekly routine of reviewing how they did in regards to the Plan To Win and who graded out with a “champion” effort.

The defense was not great, but it was very good for three quarters. He appreciated finishing plus-3 in the turnover battle but was very disappointed in the red zone numbers. That was a black mark on the game. Continue reading Overheard at Ohio State Football: Central Florida

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Illinois Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook for another week of Ohio State football, beginning with head coach Luke Fickell’s weekly press conference and moving on to the players and assistant coaches.  



Ohio State’s head coach said obviously everyone is disappointed with how they finished the game at Nebraska, but they are ready to move on and will continue approaching the season with the same energy and passion they had before.

Braxton Miller looked more comfortable before begin injured, and that was in part because they did things to make him more comfortably by making plays around him. You could see him growing. He said Miller looked OK physically to start the week but they would have to see how he ran around on it during practice.

Quarterback Kenny Guiton has been getting more reps with the first team offense recently and that would continue. He could also play some special teams (he didn’t say what unit or units).

Someone asked essentially if Joe Bauserman looked as bad on film as he did live, and Fickell said yes. Nebraska changed how it was defending Ohio State when Bauserman came in the game, and that made things more difficult. But everyone could have played better. It wasn’t just him. His attitude is still right, and he wants to do better.

He was asked if the game plan gave the team its best chance to win and he said they evaluate everything, especially when things don’t work. They just needed one more play somewhere along the line to get over the hump. If his interception had been better executed it might have been a touchdown and then been a great move to check out of the run that was called.

The defense was the victim of an unbelievable snowball effect, and it comes down to tackling. The first half they were lights out, played sound. In the second half, Nebraska brought out a different formation and gashed them and the Buckeyes never adjusted. Their tackling then went down the drain. They might have been tired, and they might have been drained mentally.

Asked what the biggest challenge has been so far since he took over as head coach, he said it’s keeping balance in his life and the program. He has to make sure he divvies up his time with the defense well with the rest of the team, and has to do a lot more media and club speaking engagements. That means re-hashing a lot of stuff over and over again. All an assistant coach usually does is go back to work after a game like that. There is nothing else for them to worry about.

Boom Herron will play this week, and the first time we see him might be on special teams. He is a big part of who they are because of his enthusiasm and leadership.

The coaches can help the defense stay mentally strong by being consistent themselves, staying the course. He also said for about the 1,000th time they need to play more guys so they can get as much out of everyone as possible.

Illinois’ success on offense begins with their quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase. The rest of the offense is similar to last year, but he is better as a sophomore. He is a threat as a runner and a passer, and his confidence looks like it is very high. Their defense is sound and mixes up what it does.

The Ohio State offensive line will probably look a lot like it did last week, but it’s nice to have guys available to roll through if they want to.

Nathan Williams is likely out for the year and will need another surgery on his knee, but that was all the information he wanted to give out. Storm Klein is sore after getting banged up at Nebraska but needs to play through it.

Fickell had no explanation for why Illinois has always played Ohio State tough even when there was a big disparity in the teams’ talent level. It goes all the way back to his playing days in the early ’90s.

Guiton has shown them he has a passion to play, and they like to find ways to get guys like that on the field. They tell them to always be ready because they never know when they might be called upon.

Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is Illinois’ big playmaker, but his chances are often a result of the threat of the running game and the quarterback. He does a good job of taking advantage.

He kind of avoided a question about the defensive line getting handled at Nebraska. He said it was really the whole group struggling. He has been there and knows what it is like when things aren’t going well up front. They needed to settle down and have someone make a play. The coaches need to help them with that, too.

The team overall has been through a lot, but they must get tougher every week. He is confident they are all together. He knows they are hard workers, and that helps him sleep better at night.

They will not revisit the idea of setting permanent captains during the season. They want to keep emphasizing the importance of the group.

Asked abut Jaamal Berry, he said the tailback has ability but is behind some others on the roster based on how they have played. He needs to be ready when the time arises for them to need him. He has a good attitude.

He doesn’t have a problem with the pressure from the fans. He knows there is a lot of passion around the program. That’s why there are 106,000 fans cheering for them every home game. They know who is with them and who is not.


Tight end Jake Stoneburner said Miller looked OK at practice, although he seemed to hold back when he was in scramble mode. He expects Miller to be good to go.

Illinois has a lot of good athletes, and their 6-0 start is no fluke.

Boom Herron is excited to be back with the regular offense and has been his usual vocal self.

The offense struggled late at Nebraska because no one executed like they needed to.

They don’t feel like they are losing a handle on the season. There is still a lot to overcome and a lot to play for. The mood of the team is fine.

Guiton practiced some with the first team, but it was less than a 50/50 split with Bauserman. He is sure Guiton would do a good job if pressed into action.

Stoneburner has a good relationship with fellow tight end Reid Fragel, and they have their own roles on the team.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said the defense did not feel any effect from Miller’s absence at Nebraska. He sees a lot of positives from the loss to the Cornhuskers, and it is a shame they had to come in a loss. The most important lesson is they have to finish games.

Illinois’ receivers are playing with great confidence, and Scheelhaase looks like he is throwing the ball better than last year.

The defense believes it can play with anybody, but they have to do a better job of maintaining their composure. There were guys who seemed to lose their focus as things started going badly in Lincoln. They were gassed because of how fast the offense was moving, but that is part of the game. That just means they should have worked harder to maintain their focus.

A.J. Jenkins is one of those confident receivers. They get him the ball by moving him around in the formation and creating mismatches with linebackers and safeties. Someone asked if his 7.7 catches and 135.8 yards per game is an indication he is a big-time player, Roby said he looks decent on film but is nothing special. They will want to locate him before every play since he moves around.

The team did not watch the Nebraska film as a unit because they know what they did wrong, but he watched the whole game because he always does. That is because he wants to be perfect in everything always. Asked to name one thing he needs to work on. he said playing lower.

He felt like they did a good job against the Nebraska option until late in the game.

The defense did not change anything schematically, it just stopped executing like it did in the first half.

He sees Guiton as a good quarterback who makes the right reads and does not turn the ball over in practice.

Center Mike Brewster said the team needs to keep winning and see what happens. Their pride is hurt by this losing, but sometimes it happens. They had a great week of practice after the debacle against Michigan State and thus played better against Nebraska.

Herron is a powerful back, and we might see him on the field at the same time as fellow tailback Jordan Hall.

Guiton can run and pass, and Brewster is sure he would be fine if they had to put him in a game. Bauserman is not begin negative right now, he is still moving forward, doing what he can. It’s got to be hard dealing with all the criticism and negativity from the fans, but coming in cold off the bench is harder than people probably realize.

Linebacker Andrew Sweat said Guiton is a great competitor.

He said lack of execution was more of an issue against Nebraska than missed tackles. They did not beat enough blocks up front.

Nebraska changed things up schematically, going with some unbalanced line formation to run their toss play out of and getting the zone read going out of that pistol triangle formation. The Buckeyes knew they could do that but did not execute what they had worked on against it.

He feels terrible for Nathan Williams, who is a good friend of his. He is sure he will be back eventually. He missed part of the 2009 season with a torn ACL, so Sweat knows what rehabbing a bad knee is all about.

Defensive tackle Garrett Goebel said the team’s spirit is good. They need to keep it up.

Scheelhaase is a dual threat, and there is some carry over this week from the Nebraska offense because both runs various types of option plays.

They have good players behind Williams, but he is a big loss. He is disappointed but will get back to working hard. He is still leading in the locker room.

The defense has a lot of vocal guys, even some of the younger members.

Assistants added:

Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said Miller looked good in practice these past couple of days and seems to have no physical limitations.

He would not say who is going to be the No. 2 quarterback this week because he didn’t want Illinois to get an advantage in preparation.

The main thing that would limit Guiton if they needed to use him would be inexperience. He knows the offense and what they want to do.

The coaches told Bauserman he needs to keep competing. Sometimes things don’t go your way, and you have to keep your head up. That’s a message for the whole team, too.

He came in saying he felt like the guy wearing a meat poncho in a deodorant commercial, so someone asked if he is feeling any pressure from fans and the media and he said no he was just joking. He doesn’t know what people are saying about him, but he understands the quarterbacks have not played extraordinarily well so far this season and that falls on him.

Miller was more calm at Nebraska than he was when the Buckeyes played Michigan State.

He was asked if Miller might be a guy who needs to learn the difference between being injured and being hurt, and Siciliano said no. He doesn’t know how much pain he’s going through right now, but he assumes he is gutting it out some because he’s been practicing this week.

The biggest thing for a freshman is adjusting to the speed of the game. He thinks Miller understands what it takes to be great at this level.

Ideally they could let a guy wait until his third year to play, but things are what they are. You never really want to have to play true freshmen at any position, but sometimes you have to.

Asked how Miller is handling the overall experience of being a college freshman and a quarterback, Siciliano said pretty well so far. He is very mild-mannered and takes everything in stride.

Philly Brown is improving and will continue to with time. He didn’t have much experience as a wide receiver in high school even.

Siciliano thinks Miller saw the MSU tape and came to practice the week after that realizing someone needed to step up and lead the team and provide a spark, and he seems to have tried to do that.

Lastly, he was asked if the offense misses the influence of Jim Tressel, and he said he isn’t sure. Jim Bollman called 97 percent of the plays last season with Tressel occasionally vetoing. It was always nice to have a guy like Tressel with 40 years in the profession to bounce things off of, though.

Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said they are seeing a lot they like about the defense. They are giving a great effort and showing toughness but need to play smarter. They do have a lot of guys seeing things for the first time.

Asked about the fourth quarter at Nebraska, he said it just comes down to getting a stop. The momentum changed, and they needed to force a punt but couldn’t do it.

He thinks they are getting better and looking forward to getting to show it.

Scheelhaase is a mobile quarterback who looks to pass first this year. He runs, but his passing differentiates him from Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez.

Vrabel is still learning as a coach, and he is constantly bugging Fickell and Heacock with questions about how to do things and what is going on.

The main difference he has seen between the NFL and college is in college you don’t get to spend nearly as much time with the players. You have to be careful in how you present information to them in a way they can grasp it in a short amount of time.

He is more worried about helping them improve and be ready to play than whether or not this is a fair chance for Fickell to show if he is worthy of being head coach here for more than a year.

Asked about leadership, he said it is still developing. Sometimes it only takes one play for a guy to become one. They are looking for guys who want to win and will call people out when necessary.

Ryan Shazier’s role is developing each week. He is a confident kid, smart and athletic. He smiles a lot and brings a breath of fresh air to the facility. He slithers around blocks. They joke he hits ball carriers a lot harder than he does blockers.

Asked about advice to the players for getting over a gut punch like the loss at Nebraska, he said he called upon the example of his losing the 2006 AFC Championship game with the Patriots. That team went on to win its next 18 games (then lost in the Super Bowl). So they should know they can overcome this adversity.

The guys need to understand that what happened last week or on the last play doesn’t matter for the next play. The next play is the most important.

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