Stuck in takeaway rut, Silver Bullets look for ways to jumpstart Ohio State defense

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Greg Schiano didn’t need one more game to tell him there was a problem.

In fact, the Ohio State defensive coordinator had already been trying to feed a unit starving for turnovers by emphasizing drills designed to create them even more in preparation for the trip to Iowa.

Unlike last year when Schiano’s approach helped produce one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country, this time it didn’t work. The Buckeyes came up empty handed yet again, leaving them with just a meaningless interception of a desperation heave at the end of the Nebraska game as the only takeaway in the last three games. It also has put them on pace to create the fewest turnovers per game of any team since Urban Meyer took over, which certainly doesn’t mesh well with the program’s famous Plan to Win.

And Ohio State is running out of time to fix it.

“I definitely was concerned, not only before the Iowa game but as the season progressed,” Schiano said. “We weren’t getting them at the rate that I expect to get them and that we expect to get them as a defense. We talked about it last week, and we actually made it a huge emphasis and got more in practice than we’ve had at any point this season. It’s been my history that when you do that in practice in a given week, you end up doing that in the game. It didn’t hold true that week.

“I’m hoping that we do it again this week and collectively that happens. It’s kind of like a batting streak. I’ve been doing this a long time, and you go through streaks where you’re just getting them in a bushel basket and sometimes you hit a lull.”

There’s no question which period the Buckeyes are in the middle of now as they head into the homestretch with just 7 interceptions and 6 fumbles recovered over the first nine weeks of the season.

The Buckeyes finished with 27 takeaways a year ago, regularly turning them into touchdowns for good measure as well. And it marked the second season since Meyer arrived that Ohio State posted more than two takeaways per game, a number that currently is just 1.4 this season and on track to be the worst ratio of his tenure.

Jerome Baker-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Big Ten-defense-linebacker-Silver Bullets
Jerome Baker’s fumble recovery against Maryland was one of just six for OSU this season. (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

So, what has caused the dip? That’s the tricky part for Schiano, and it’s more complicated than just pointing to the three first-round defensive backs Ohio State lost to the NFL draft after last season.

Those departures are certainly a significant factor. But that doesn’t account for changes offenses have made to account for what Ohio State likes to do in coverage, with quick-passing attacks that have helped negate a ferocious pass rush that can create mistakes and fumbles or even just lucky bounces of the football.

And that’s also why the solution isn’t likely going to be simple, either.

“It just hasn’t happened, and it’s not that we’re not putting the same emphasis on it,” linebacker Chris Worley said. “But it’s just like anything, once a team sees that you do something good, they’re going to adjust to it and not make the same mistakes they did last year. After you force as many turnovers as we did last year, teams are going to make sure they’re securing the football, cover it up more, not throw a post when they’ve seen the type of ballhawks we have at safety, there are a bunch of things like that.

“Honestly, we can’t focus on that, because if we start trying to take it away in a game, we’re not going to get takeaways, we’re going to get missed tackles.”

The Buckeyes have had those, too, including a few times in high-pressure situations against the Hawkeyes.

That has only added to the frustration for the Silver Bullets, who have long prided themselves not only for their ability to get hands on the football, but also stringing together three-and-outs, playing fundamentally sound and putting the offense in position to win games.

And if Ohio State is going to win the Big Ten, starting with what amounts to an East Division eliminator against Michigan State on Saturday, it’s well aware that it needs a full bushel after a few weeks of coming up empty.

“I’m confident we’ll start to get them, I really am,” Schiano said. “We’re just not getting them right now. We’re doing a lot of the same emphasis drills and a lot of the same emphasis things on video, as much if not more, it’s just not adding up right now.

“But if we keep going right now, it will.”

With their backs against the wall, the Buckeyes can’t afford any more strikeouts.

Now is the time to start one of Schiano’s familiar turnover hitting streaks.

The post Stuck in takeaway rut, Silver Bullets look for ways to jumpstart Ohio State defense appeared first on Land of 10.

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