Ohio State football: Big plays, not missed tackles, annoy Urban Meyer

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Kyle Robertson | Dispatch
Ohio State’s Bradley Roby brings down California receiver Darius Powe in a game in which the Buckeyes missed 16 tackles.

No one at Ohio State is reaching for the panic button after defenders missed 16 tackles on Saturday in a 52-34 victory over California.

But coach Urban Meyer said some players might need to hit the reset button.

Last season, Meyer called out his defense about halfway through a 12-0 run for poor tackling. That time, he thought it was the entire unit; this time, just some individual gaffes.

“The thing that I always look at is effort,” Meyer said. “If there’s an effort issue, which I felt like at one time last year, there was, a bad one — I don’t believe there’s an effort issue (this time). Matter of fact, I thought our guys played very hard.”

Cal’s offense under first-year coach Sonny Dykes is based on spreading the field and trying to create space for receivers.

“Everybody is going to force you to tackle in space,” said Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams in his 13 years in the NFL. “I think that’s what happens in the National Football League. It happens in college.

“It’s easy to tackle a guy in the B gap (on the interior line). But when you get players that are displaced (on the outside) and you get receivers that are split out, the space between defenders gets further and further.”

It was acceptable that Cal, which went into the game leading the nation in passing offense, was going to complete several passes behind freshman quarterback Jared Goff.

“I think we were prepared to give up some of the quick (things such as wide bubble screens and hitches) because they are so quick getting the ball out,” Meyer said. “Their quarterback is really an accurate passer. But the big plays? There’s no excuse for that.”

One play Meyer was referring to was a long sideline throw in which Ohio State defenders clearly became confused, letting a receiver burst into the clear after making a catch and completing a 61-yard play for the Golden Bears’ first touchdown after the Buckeyes had taken a 21-0 lead.

And then there was a wide screen the Golden Bears turned into a 43-yard score for their second touchdown, a play that cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 10 points.

Now comes Florida A&M, a prohibitive underdog, but one that is expected to throw a lot with quarterback Damien Fleming just to have a chance. Passing is the only place that Ohio State’s first three opponents — Buffalo, San Diego State and Cal — have found a modicum of success.

“The short underneath ones where you rally up to make tackles, especially when you’ve got a significant lead, that’s all part of giving up some yardage,” Meyer said. “But the big plays? There’s no excuse for that.”

To prevent that from happening is an approach where at least one defender on the outside trying to tackle or disrupt the receiver while the rest of the defense converges to the ball.

“We talk about trying to close the gap, trying to be aggressive, trying to get other guys running to the ball, and a lot of times, we did that (at Cal),” Vrabel said. “And the times that we didn't do that, you give up yards after those missed tackles.

“We talk about trying to have less than 10 missed tackles a game, and if we can do that, we are probably going to win the game. But the yards after those missed tackles is kind of what kills you.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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