In the game of college football, a win’s a win, no matter how or at what cost.
For the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0), their 24th victory in a row might have been the toughest of the streak to date, a 42-41 win on the road against archrival Michigan (7-5, 3-5) that saw the OSU defense give up a season-high 603 yards to the Wolverines.
Such a performance garners questions to be directed at the team’s defensive coordinator, and OSU’s Luke Fickell was no exception Monday.
When asked about what he thought went wrong in Saturday’s win, Fickell didn’t take kindly to the question.
“What do you mean what went wrong? Did we win? Did we win?” Fickell said. “I’ve been up (in Ann Arbor) quite a few times in my 18-year career here … We know there’s things we have to correct, momentum and things happened and we didn’t play great on the defensive side of the ball so there’s a lot of things to correct. Every single week we have objectives and the last objective last week was win, and we came away with a win.”
Don’t tell that to junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, though, who called the unit’s performance Saturday “bittersweet” even though the team won the game.
“The most important thing at the end of the day is getting a ‘W,’” Shazier said. “But we (are) still pretty mad … the whole defense is pretty pissed off about how many yards we gave up rushing and passing. It’s just not acceptable.”
Even though the Buckeye defense struggled all game, it did make a big play when it mattered most as redshirt-freshman cornerback Tyvis Powell picked off Michigan redshirt-junior quarterback Devin Gardner’s two-point conversion pass attempt with 32 seconds left to ice the game.
Powell said after the game he knew that play was coming thanks to cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, which Fickell said is all part of weekly preparation.
“You prepare. You don’t know exactly, but when you do your studies and you have an idea,” Fickell said. “Obviously, you see the things that we rep we do a lot better job of … but that (play) was one of the things that we had repped and had a good idea but it comes down to the guy making the play.”
OSU’s defense gives up an average 255.8 passing yards per game, tied for 101st in the country with Northwestern. The whole season, the team has been able to compensate for the lack of consistency on that side of the ball, but coach Urban Meyer remains confident in them.
“(The) pass defense surfaced again, and (a) lack of contact on the quarterback,” Meyer said Monday. “We just had some guys running open … I trust that we’ll get it fixed, and I trust that these guys will be locked and loaded and have a good week of preparation.”
The Spartan offense ranks third to last in the Big Ten in total offense with 380.2 yards per game, but is better than that number indicates, Shazier said.
“They have playmakers out there,” Shazier said. “They would not have went undefeated in the Big Ten so far if they weren’t (good) so I feel like they’re doing a great job right now.”
After watching the film of Saturday’s win against Michigan, sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said the defense was “really close” to stopping the Wolverines from a lot of their big plays. The mistakes, though, were pretty evident.
“When you turn on the film you gotta face the facts and realize that there were some mistakes made,” Perry said. “We got a chip on our shoulder, but it’s nothing that’s too urgent like we gotta throw out the whole defense and start over again. It’s just that we gotta correct up what we know to do.”
Whether there are questions about the defense as a whole or specifically about their performance against Michigan, Fickell said it all comes back to one thing.
“You have a standard, and that’s what’s been set around here. And I think that’s the beauty of it,” Fickell said. “You’re never satisfied with what you got.”
The Buckeyes and No. 10 Spartans (11-1, 8-0) are set to face off for Big Ten supremacy Saturday at 8:17 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.