There was no denying that as the Ohio State football team entered the 2014 season, tackling was an issue.
The Buckeyes were ranked 47th in total defense and allowed opposing offenses to average 377.4 yards per game in 2013, a season that was capped by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins breaking tackles left and right on his way to 227 yards receiving.
Of those 227 yards, 202 came after the catch.
Enter Chris Ash and an instructional video from then-defending Super Bowl champion Pete Carroll.
Ash, who replaced Everett Withers as the co-defensive coordinator, came to OSU from Arkansas, and one summer night, he came across a video that he said changed the Buckeye defense in a profound way.
“We changed our tackling philosophy, partly because Pete Carroll’s video inspired us to go back and really evaluate ourselves,” Ash said Thursday. “When we did evaluate ourselves, we found out that what we were coaching wasn’t showing up on film.”
The video completely changed the way the OSU defense approached tackling, and at first, it wasn’t easy for the players to adapt, Ash said.
“We went through the self-evaluation last summer after spring practice and it was a fairly big change,” he said. “Philosophically, everything that you’ve been taught in the game of football and how you tackle, we were going against that.”
Ultimately the change seemed to work as the Buckeyes jumped from the 47th ranked defense in 2013 to the 19th ranked defense in 2014, reducing the yards allowed per game by 35.
Ash said the change in technique contributed to the Buckeyes staying healthy in 2014, as only one OSU starting defensive back missed a start (then-redshirt-freshman Eli Apple against Michigan State) en route to a national title. Even though he didn’t start, Apple was still healthy enough to take the field later in that game.
“It eliminated some injuries, but it also was a lot more effective. And I can tell you honestly right now, as a coach, I could go show you our film and what we teach, what we coach, what we drill and guess what? It shows up on film,” Ash said. “Not once, not twice, not by luck but by design. Our players have bought into it and that alone, in my opinion, led to us having a lot of success, especially late in the season.”
Ash added that the Buckeyes sustained their success by running tackling drills throughout the season, even leading up to the title matchup with the Oregon Ducks.
“We were three days away from the national championship game, we are still doing live tackling drills,” he said. “It’s how we coach it, it’s how we drill it and how we do it consistently throughout the whole year that led us to become a really good tackling team.”
One of the players who seemed to buy into the new philosophy of tackling was now-junior safety Vonn Bell, who accumulated 92 tackles in 2014, good for second on the team.
Bell, who was forced to sit out spring practice last year because of a torn MCL, said he has been working on building his individual game throughout spring practice.
“It’s a blessing to be out here with the guys, just not sitting back not doing nothing,” Bell said Thursday. “I am really enhancing my craft now. Working on my fundamentals, technique, just working on the little things I need to get better on.”
Fellow safety redshirt-junior Tyvis Powell said the Buckeyes are looking to build on what they accomplished in 2014, but added he and Bell are keeping an eye on the younger players who might get too comfortable because of the recent success.
“Complacency is what kills us. We already tasted the highest level of football. We are just trying to get back there and trying to hold everybody accountable,” Powell said. “So (if) people come out here slacking, it’s up to me and Vonn basically on the defense and in the secondary to keep everybody going.”
The Buckeyes are set to conclude spring practice April 18 at Ohio Stadium with the annual Spring Game before opening the 2015 season on the road against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 7.