By Rusty Miller | Associated Press
COLUMBUS -- Urban Meyer wasn't just unhappy with his pass defense after last season.
So upset was he that he destroyed it, hired a new coach to oversee what was left and then they rebuilt it from the ground up.
"It's an acknowledgment of things not done well," veteran safeties coach Kerry Coombs said.
As a result, there are a lot of people keeping a close watch on the defensive backfield in particular as No. 5 Ohio State goes through its paces in preparation for the Aug. 30 opener against Navy in Baltimore.
"We were kind of leaky in the pass game," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "We were giving up a lot of stuff underneath and that kind of hurt us. The leadership was pretty good but toward the end of the year you saw a lot of guys starting to fizzle a little bit. And that's a tough thing."
Now new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash is praising the commitment and work ethic of a secondary that will rely on man-to-man, face-to-face coverage this year.
Safety Tyvis Powell says things have changed for the better from a year ago.
"I definitely see a huge difference from last year to this year, even going against our offense," he said, referring to the Buckeyes' high-scoring attack. "They don't really do too many things against us passing."
Ash, formerly on staff at Arkansas and before that Wisconsin, recognizes that his first job was to burn everything down and start over.
"I met with coach Meyer. His vision of what he wanted his defense to look like meshed with what I've done and I knew it was going to be a good thing from the start after talking to him," he said.
Over the last three Ohio State games last season -- a closer-than-expected 42-41 victory at rival Michigan, a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship and a 40-35 setback to Clemson in the Orange Bowl -- the Buckeyes' defense was lit up for 38.3 points and 539 yards per game. Within those numbers, opponents passed for four touchdowns and 378 yards per game.
No wonder Meyer was so angry.
This spring, the Buckeyes are putting their cornerbacks right in the grills of the receivers on the line. There'll be no more allowing a 10-yard gap to the wide-out, as was the case against Clemson. That strategy helped turn the Tigers' Sammy Watkins into a legend with 16 catches for 227 yards.
Truth is, Watkins had freedom to run. The Buckeyes back there didn't.
Ohio State has simplified the defensive playbook, allowing the players to rely more on in instinct than following a series of checks.
"You just use your keys and go," safety Vonn Bell said. "You stick your feet on the ground, and go play ball. That's what I like."
The cornerbacks, in particular, will be tested.
"I would say it's challenging and demanding physically," Coombs said. "It will require more guys to play the position because of the wear and tear during the course of the game of lining up right on top of a wide receiver."
Ash believes the dramatic changes will lead to good things.
"We've seen a ton of improvement," he said. "The guys have bought in; they bought in early, which was kind of a surprise. If I told them to go jump in a lake right now, they'd do it. They just want to be successful."