Ohio State football: ‘Bend’ not part of Jim Knowles’ vocabulary

COLUMBUS -- Though it was sometimes difficult to tell, the defense Ohio State ran in the first three seasons of Ryan Day’s tenure as head coach was supposed to be a bend-but-don’t-break unit.

The design was to make teams march the length of the field and earn their points, perhaps draining the clock along the way, while Ohio State scored early and often with a prolific offense led by a dynamic quarterback.

Even better would be if the Buckeyes made a play somewhere along the way and turned the opposing offense back with a tackle for loss or sack or took the ball away with a fumble recovery or interception.

After a successful first season, though, the “earning their points” thing was more common than the other outcomes for Ohio State opponents.

Big plays were also too plentiful, leading Day to drastically change the defensive staff in the offseason.

He hired Jim Knowles as the new coordinator, and the veteran defensive mentor clarified this week he is not a fan of the bend-but-don’t-break philsophy.

“I would never call a defense that I was associated with that,” he said. “To me, defense is a right now proposition. We go on field — I go on the field with the mindset every time of getting the ball back to our offense as quickly as possible. So I never think about bending but not breaking.”

That even extends to late-game situations when Ohio State has a large lead to protect and the situation calls for a more conservative approach.

“(When) we have a lead where you put some guys in the game, I’m still always chirping to go out there and hold the line and stop them right now,” he said. “It’s a habit. It’s a way of thinking. So I don’t like that term.”

As far as traditional stats, Ohio State is 23rd in the nation in total defense (264.5 yards per game) and tied for 20th in scoring (11.0 points per game) after two games.

The Buckeyes have been good on third down (allowing a conversion rate of 24.2 percent, 19th nationally) and against the run (64.5 yards/11th) but more pedestrian against the pass (200 ypg./52nd and 49th in pass efficiency defense).

Per advanced stats, Ohio State is 17th in defense SP+, which measures play-by-play success and explosiveness, and 16th in defensive FEI, which measures success by drive instead of by play.

They are eighth in the nation in drives that result in a touchdown (0.5%) but tied for 108th in drives that result in a turnover because they have none of the latter.

Day said Ohio State’s 18 tackles for loss and five sacks somewhat mitigate the takeaway situation, but Knowles is still not satisfied.

“There are a lot of metrics (to measure success on defense), and takeaways is one of them,” Knowles said. “We want that to be better.

“I think they come as guys get more comfortable in the system and you can see the forest through the trees and you’re able to take more chances because you feel comfortable in the system. So I don’t like it, but am I concerned? I’m concerned about everything all the time, but that’s just one thing.”

As far as his aggressive philosophy, Knowles left no doubt about it with the start of the season.

The Buckeyes blitzed a cornerback and slid a safety into his spot, leaving no one deep to protect the middle, on the first play of the season-opening win over Notre Dame.

It’s known as “Cover 0″ because no one is deep, and it nearly backfield as Notre Dame’s Lorenzo Style Jr. eluded a tackler and went 54 yards before being brought down.

Ohio State forced a field goal, though, and Knowles remains undeterred about using such an approach from time to time.

“It just puts a lot of pressure on the offense to execute,” he said. “When you have it in your arsenal, they have to plan for it. There’s risk-reward to it, (but) I’ve become more comfortable with it throughout my career because I know it’s important to the structure of your defense to have that be something that is always there where you can get after someone.”


Toledo at Ohio State, 7 p.m., Fox, 1410

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