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Published: Tuesday, 9/18/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Buckeyes have issues to tackle

Defense to be stressed after near upset by California

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
California's Keenan Allen, left, runs after a catch as Ohio State's Travis Howard, center, and Curtis Grant chase him during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game. California's Keenan Allen, left, runs after a catch as Ohio State's Travis Howard, center, and Curtis Grant chase him during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game.
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COLUMBUS — Today is known as Bloody Tuesday for the Ohio State football team.

One afternoon per week, the players go full tilt in full pads — no mercy reserved for anyone but quarterbacks wearing black jersey. Coach Urban Meyer wants it to be the hardest- hitting practice in the country.

"Tuesday is awful," Meyer said. "Inside drills, run emphasis. Just bad stuff. It's all the hard blitzes, all the hard looks."

This week's edition? Expect a bigger helping of awfulness and bad stuff.

Meyer suggested as much Monday as No. 16 OSU attempts to fix their suddenly elastic defense heading into Saturday's nonconference finale against Alabama-Birmingham.

A veteran unit that figured to be the team's backbone as an inexperienced offense wet its feet in a new system bent and broke against California. The Silver Bullets dodged one in their stirring 35-28 victory.

While the Buckeyes had six sacks and clinched the win with a Christian Bryant interception in the dying minutes, they whiffed on tackles at a rate Meyer called "alarming." OSU allowed the Golden Bears 512 yards of offense — the most by a visitor at Ohio Stadium since 1999; let a sophomore reserve running back dash for 160 yards on four carries — including an 81-yard touchdown run that was the longest by an opponent in the Horseshoe's 90-year history; and yielded six plays of 25 or more yards.

After Cal's Brendan Bigelow shed three tackles en route to a game- tying 59-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, Meyer put both hands to his head as if in disbelief.

"I know we tackle more than anybody, but obviously it's not getting the job done, so we have to tackle more," Meyer said. "Instead of one day a week [in practice], we'll probably have to go two now. It's all about fundamentals."

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell called the performance unacceptable.

"Does it hurt? Yeah," he said. "Is there a knot in the bottom of my stomach? Yeah. Was I in bed watching the game Saturday night instead of other games? Yeah."

Beyond the missed tackles, blame could be spread in many directions. The Buckeyes at times suffered the blowback of more blitzes. Their linebackers are inexperienced. Senior Etienne Sabino and sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant began the season with eight combined career starts. And coaches hinted some of the issues were scheme-related.

Meyer also heaped praise on California, taking offense when a reporter said the Buckeyes "by all rights" should have won by more than a touchdown.

"If you want to come watch film with me, they've got some very good players," he said. "Probably as good of players as we've got."

Still, Meyer said there was no excuse for the number of big plays.

"I've watched them for a long time, and I can't remember an Ohio State defense that's given up this many," he said. "We've got to stop or we'll lose a game."

Meyer said the team's focus in practice will budge from creating turnovers — the Buckeyes already have six interceptions after picking off just 13 passes last season — to just plain bringing the opponent down.

"You get what you emphasize," Meyer said. "All I heard about was lack of turnovers a year ago, and certainly we are creating some more.

"We make a huge emphasis on stripping the ball. If you watch one of those tackles, it looked like the guy was going after the ball instead of wrapping him up."

The preparation begins on Bloody Tuesday.

"We're going to coach them hard," Fickell said. "It's a lot easier to coach them harder when you came away with a win."

EXTRA POINTS: Meyer expects John Simon to play Saturday, though he knows the senior defensive end would not tell him if he could not. Simon played against California despite a throbbing shoulder. "He said, ‘I feel a lot better than I did a week ago.' I told him, ‘You did not tell me that a week ago, John.' He said, ‘My shoulder is a long way from my heart.'" … Ohio State's Sept. 29 conference opener at Michigan State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and be televised by ABC, the Big Ten announced.

Contact David Briggs: at dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.



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