Penn State Football: Buckeye Defense Still Troubling Meyer
Your favorite team's defensive coordinator might get heartburn watching Ohio State's offense, but when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes are a little less dominant.
That's not to suggest Ohio State has a bad defense, they give up two yards less yards on average than Penn State's defensive unit, but much like Penn State, the Buckeyes aren't quite as airtight in the secondary as they have been in years past. It doesn't guarantee a Penn State victory, but it is enough to give the Nittany Lions' a chance.
And this worries head coach Urban Meyer, especially after Iowa was able to maintain long drives against the Buckeyes last weekend in Columbus.
"I think the adjustments need to be made quicker when they give us something we have not seen," Meyer said. "The first three drives were alarming. I don't think our defensive line played very well. I think what happened was you have some good emotion in that stadium and you go 13 play drive, and you let the air out of the stadium. That's got to come from our coaches and players. Very disappointed. Can it be fixed? Absolutely. We're still a good rush defense. We've got to continue to work because we've dealt with some injuries and depth issues and we've got to play better. Very, very concerned."
For Meyer, the defense's ability to improve will be key to finishing a second straight season undefeated. Ohio State's offense is capable of putting up points when needed, but opponents in the Big Ten are hanging around with the Buckeyes deep into the second half thanks in large part to the Ohio State defense.
In terms of the numbers it isn't as bad as it sounds. Ohio State gives up only an average of 333 yards of offense per game. Penn State on the flip side has averaged 335 yards allowed per game.
What is problematic for the Buckeyes is a pass defense giving up 240 or more yards per game at an average of 11 yards per catch. While the Buckeye defense has given up just under 100 yards on the ground per game, the Ohio State secondary has been prone to letting a big play or two slip past them.
When Iowa took on Ohio State in a losing effort last weekend, the Hawkeyes were able to move the ball thanks to short passes and routes designed to get tight ends involved. As a result Iowa racked up 245 yards through the air which allowed Iowa to run the ball for 130 yards, just about 30 yards above Ohio State's defensive average. While Ohio State still came out on top, Iowa was effective moving the ball without doing anything particularly flashy.
"They're a little bit better throwing team than Iowa, " Meyer said of Penn State's passing attack. "And Iowa hurt us."
On the Penn State side of things the Nittany Lions will need a strong game from Christian Hackenberg, and a strong game from the offensive line. If Hackenberg -- who has thrown for 300 or more yards three times this season -- has time to pass he can exploit a still shaky Ohio State secondary, and if he can pass the ball it opens up chances to run it.
It's one of football's most simple understandings, that the pass helps open up the run and vice-versa, but as Penn State looks to pull off the upset it'll come down to the little things to win the game. Late-game heroics that saw Penn State catapult into a four-overtime thriller just over a week ago won't be enough to beat the Buckeyes. If Ohio State gets a substantial lead, even an average Buckeye defense will play well enough to ensure that No. 4 ranking isn't lost just yet.