Three and Out From Inside the WHAC
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every coach's white whale is "the perfect game". No mistakes by the players, no mistakes by the coaches, and seamless coordination between the two.
That white whale has never been landed, but that doesn't stop coaches from fishing for it. In the process of searching for their white whale, if they come up with a few tuna along the way, well then that's not such a bad consolation prize.
Perfection is impossible to land. All a coach or player can do is play up to their potential. Right now, the Buckeyes aren't where they want to be, but they are certainly working to get there.
The buzzword this week was "miscommunication", as in the occasional lapses in communication in the secondary this season that has led to big passing plays by the opponent.
Without those big plays, this Ohio State defense would be giving up even fewer points than they already are because offenses would have to drive the length of the field by earning every inch.
Eliminating those big plays will become much easier when the communication becomes consistent and routine. Only then will this secondary be playing to its potential.
"One is too high," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of the seven 20-yard passing plays the defense has allowed.
"They are unacceptable. They're really unacceptable when it's a coverage breakdown. If you're in great coverage and they throw a ball up and two guys go up for a ball, sometimes one of them is going to catch it. But a guy wide open is unacceptable and it will be corrected."
Correcting that will be imperative this week because Urban Meyer would like his defensive coaches to get a bit more aggressive and force California quarterback Zach Maynard into mistakes. But aggression comes with a price.
"Any time you add guys into the rush, you're taking them out of coverage, so there's a give and take there," Coombs said.
"Whether it's a zone pressure or it's a man pressure, you're going to sacrifice something in the back end in order to add guys into the rush."
Whatever the coaches decide to do, they'll do it with the intent to force turnovers, and more specifically cause interceptions.
The Buckeyes have five interceptions on the season, one behind Arizona State and SMU for tops in the nation. Those interceptions aren't happenstance, it's by design and it's the only way this defense can reach its full potential.
"I think that we have a clear expectation of trying to lead the country in interceptions, or be in that top group," Coombs said.
To do that, a defense has to be able to pressure a quarterback, and also fool him a bit as well. This is the reason for the multiple coverages that the Buckeyes show. Part of the reason for their inconsistencies, however, comes from the different coverages that the players are responsible for.
But it isn't just the amount of coverages, it's also the lack of attential to detail. Both Coombs and his players have said that there has been a time or two when a cornerback won't focus long enough to get an entire defensive call. Because of this, the safety is thinking the corner is going to do one thing, and the corner is planning on doing another.That's a mental lapse and it's unacceptable, but it's also easily fixed.
It wasn't just the secondary that has been disappointed with pieces of their performance this year, because linebacker Ryan Shazier hasn't been happy with his either.
Talking to him Monday, he sounded like a guy who knew the type of expectations that people had for him this year, and he knew that to this point he hadn't come close to living up to them.
Last year Shazier was known for being a point-and-shoot player. When the defensive coaches were desperate for a play in the backfield, they sent the 205-pound freshman Shazier out there and told him to make something happen.
Despite leading the team with 14 tackles this season, Shazier knows that he needs to do more if this defense is going to be as good as it needs to be.
"Personally, to be where I want to be, and the plans that I had for this season, I'm not doing as well as I thought I'd be doing," he said. "But I really plan on picking it up and stepping up more for the team."
Shazier has yet to record a tackle behind the line of scrimmage this season, though he hasn't exactly had a ton of opportunities. Facing two quick-passing attacks doesn't lend itself to making plays in the backfield, but according to Shazier there are still plays to be made.
"I really need to work on my fundamentals a lot more and I've just got to make the plays that are given to me," he said.
"I've missed a few tackles, I dropped a pick last game. I've just got to make the plays when they're presented to me and I feel that I haven't made all of them."
Shazier will never make every play presented to him, but when he's making most of them, this defense will be much, much better.
Urban Meyer has been talking about the need for playmakers at receiver since the day that he arrived, and he really hasn't ever stopped talking about it.
He and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have made it known to the receivers that their role in this offense is extremely important, and will only grow as they show an ability to make plays.
If they can't make plays, however, then their job will never be safe and this offense won't ever become what Meyer wants it to be.
"If the wideouts in this offense aren't as productive as they're supposed to be, I don't think the offense will run as smooth as it should," said receiver Corey Brown.
"We have a really, really good running game, but Coach Meyer always said in the offseason that if the wideouts aren't as good as they're supposed to be, then the offense won't run as smoothly.
"Obviously the wideouts carry a big load in this offense with the amount of passing that he wants to do. We've done a lot of passing so far, but I don't think we've even come close to how much passing we'll do in a single game once we get going."
Brown understands that this group has a ways to go, but at least they are pointed in the right direction. They play in an offense that gets the ball to its receivers with an opportunity to make plays. The more plays they make, the better the team as a whole becomes.
"I feel now that we have more of that cocky confidence that you need to be a good player," Brown said.
"Obviously we've grown to have more confidence now because Coach Herman is calling more plays our way and building our confidence."
Confidence is an amazing thing, and there's never been a truly great team that didn't have more than its share of confidence. As the receivers grow in production, the confidence that Meyer and Herman have in them will only continue to build.
When coaches have complete confidence in their players, they can then come closer to reaching their own potential as coaches. And when the coaches and the players are then performing at their highest level, that's when championships happen.
Not every ounce of potential needs to be tapped, however, In other words, you don't always have to be good to be great, nor great to be good. How so, you ask?
Calling himself an okay run blocker, Corey Brown talked about an area of his game that he doesn't need to be perfect at in order to excel.
"It's not a bad thing to block for him, it's not hard either," Brown said of run blocking for quarterback Braxton Miller.
"All you've got to do is touch somebody and he'll run past them. He's such a good runner that all you've got to do is screen somebody and he's gone."
Apparently there's no need to reach your potential as a blocker if you're blocking for somebody who can't be caught.
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