December 17, 2012

12-OH: A defense on the brink

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

Having just wrapped up a perfect season unlike any other in program history, it's hard not to look back at the last 12 months of Ohio State football and not only marvel at the unlikeliness of what the Buckeyes accomplished in 2012, but also how far they've come since their 6-7 mark in 2011. With that in mind, I'll spend 12 days examining and reflecting on the 12 most important moments that helped create and stand out from just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in Ohio State history.

Yesterday, we reflected on the first primetime showcase of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus. Today, we'll take you back to a one of the low points of the 2012 season, that left fans wondering what had happened to the 'Silver Bullets.'

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Talking to Ohio State players and coaches before they boarded the busses, you would've never known they had just won a game.

And not only did they add another victory to their resume, but it was their seventh in as many contests.

But there sat Urban Meyer, glumly chewing on a Chick-Fil-A sandwich alongside OSU strength coach Mickey Marotti. A depressing mood was also apparent in his players, who searched and reached for answers to the question that everybody was thinking.

What happened to the Buckeyes' defense?

Sure OSU had just won, but if morally victories exist, shouldn't moral losses as well? Despite winning the game by scoring 52 points, the Buckeyes surrendered 49 points and 481 yards to an Indiana squad that finished the season with a 4-8 record. It wasn't until the early hours of Sunday morning that OSU managed to hold off the Hoosiers, who scored 22 of their points in the fourth quarter.

"That's horrible," OSU cornerback Bradley Roby said of the Buckeyes allowing 49 points to the Hoosiers. "We just gotta really just work on just finishing."

Fellow cornerback Travis Howard agreed with Roby's assessment of the OSU defense, which gave up scoring plays of 59 and 76 yards.

"We came in there and we told ourselves that we were going to hold this team to maybe a touchdown," Howard said. "They putting up that many points, it's just horrendous."

Meyer didn't know what the Buckeyes' problems were, but knew something needed to change.

"I'm not happy at all with what's going on on defense," Meyer said. "That includes players, coaches, and I think we can all get better. It's a team effort. We've got good coaches, good players and we'll move forward and get better."

Most fans took to Twitter and message boards to blame OSU's lackluster effort on co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. Having endured a 6-7 season as the Buckeyes' interim head coach just one year prior, Fickell was no stranger to criticism and took it in stride, focused on bettering his unit.

"If you can put more pressure on me than I put on myself, then I don't know you could do it," Fickell said. "We've got to get better. And there's not a perfect defense, there's not a perfect call."

While Meyer admitted after the season that he was concerned with how the defensive coaching staff was meshing with his philosophy, help would eventually come for the Buckeyes' defense. But until that happened, the perception that Fickell was on a hot seat that was only getting warmer remained, with even a pizza man getting fired for telling the defensive coordinator's wife what he thought of her husband's effort.

Fickell denied having anything to do with the employee's job loss, even stating that the kid had a point.

"I said it a million times last year. My 5-year-olds know that, my wife knows that, we're all in the same boat, we would never whine and we would never complain," Fickell said. "I actually agree with him."


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