Ryan Day did exactly what Ohio State Football fans wanted against Tulsa

Ohio State coach Ryan Day cheers on his defense.Tulsa At Ohio State Football
Ohio State coach Ryan Day cheers on his defense.Tulsa At Ohio State Football /

Ohio State Football fans across the country have been sounding the alarms after the first three weeks of the season. Some of them are deserving; after all, Ryan Day’s Buckeyes looked less than stellar against Minnesota in the season opener, and there were no changes going into Week 2. Which, as you know, led to the home loss against Oregon in which the scarlet & gray’s defense put up one of the worst showings of my lifetime.

After that loss, the hesitant concerns from week one’s defensive display turned into a loud demand for change.  Most of that was directed at Kerry Coombs, and rightfully so.  Coombs has long been a fabulous recruiter & culture builder for the Ohio State secondary, but as he’s proved last year and into this year, a less than capable defensive play-caller. It was clear if there were to be any changes, it needed to start at the top with Coombs.

And that’s exactly what happened. Despite dodging questions from the media throughout the week regarding who will be calling the defense, Coach Day also refused to provide any sort of endorsement or confidence in Coombs calling the shots on defense.

Come game time, the changes were evident as Coombs was moved up to the booth and secondary coach Matt Barnes was the play-caller on defense. What seemed to be a lot of gray area turned out to be a good-ol’ fashioned demotion and promotion.

Primarily playing a man-to-man defense with a single-high safety under Coombs for the past year and a half, Barnes came out with much more variety on defense. Two-high safeties to prevent any deep shots, more zone defense that allows the secondary to be better playmakers, and a lot more blitz packages that kept the Tulsa offense guessing.

I was pleased with what I saw defensively against Tulsa (aside from a complete lack of pass rush), but after the game, I realized I seemed to be on an island with my assessment. Ohio State football fans were still clamoring that making Barnes the Defensive Coordinator made no difference because they couldn’t pull away from a below-average Tulsa team. “I’m not so sure we’ll be able to beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl this year,” said one media member.

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Am I taking crazy pills? Was I watching the same game? To me, the majority of our issues against Tulsa were on the offensive side of things. But I have very little worry that those will be worked out.  Did our defense look incredible? No. Did I expect them to? No. But it’s trending in the right direction.

Think about it, the defense just spent an ENTIRE offseason and previous season working & repping at the same man-to-man defense Coombs ran. It showed no signs of improvement through two weeks this year, and Buckeye fans demanded that Coach Day make a change. And that’s what he did.

He did exactly what we wanted him to do. Now, why that change wasn’t made the morning after the pitiful showing against Alabama in last year’s National Championship is a conversation for another time, but nonetheless, he made a change.

After the Oregon game, the Ohio State football team was staring at an upcoming schedule of Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland, and a bye week. Not a lot of coaches are willing to make huge changes midseason, let alone after two games, but Coach Day obviously recognized if there was ever a perfect time to do it, it’s now. That’s six weeks of practice they have before the Indiana game where they can transition into a new, better defense.

It’s obviously going to be a process–it was never going to look pretty against Tulsa, but it was better.  It’s not going to look pretty against Akron, but it will be better. These are the weeks they can afford to go through a big defensive change–against inferior teams where we can still get a W by not playing anywhere near their best.

Our cornerbacks have been the silver lining of not just the defense this year, but the entire team.  True freshman Denzel Burke & Cam Brown have proven to be darn good corners.  The biggest concern I have for the defense is the line.

It’s super weird for Larry Johnson’s line to be underperforming, generating virtually zero pass rush through three games. That’s what made our 2019 defense so good — they had a line of Chase Young, Jonathan Cooper, Davon Hamilton, & Jashon Cornell — that’s 4 NFL Draft picks. We thought Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, & Haskell Garrett were next in line to fill those shoes and so far only Garrett has lived up to the billing.

To me, the defensive line is the most important part of a team after the quarterback play. If you have a good, consistent pass rush, and some space-eaters on the interior, life for the back 7 will be so much easier. Look at the Washington Football team last year.

One of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The rest of their roster doesn’t have a ton of bright spots, but they secured a playoff spot thanks to that line’s performance. If Ohio State’s line doesn’t pick up the play, then all of this optimism about our defense can be thrown out the window.

We can revisit all of this after the Indiana game (although we shouldn’t overlook Rutgers, either) and see where we’re at. I feel pretty confident that you’ll be pleased with how our defense is coming around on October 23rd in Bloomington. In the meantime, relax.

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Understand it’ll take a few more games for our defense to get tuned up to where they need to be. And come December, we’ll be back in Lucas Oil for the Big Ten Championship game.