The Ohio State defense is sharper now because of the fretting, planning, tinkering and honing of coordinator Jim Knowles after the Buckeyes were repeatedly ripped by big plays in the demoralizing loss to Michigan last year.
One of the measures of a defense is how many “explosive” plays it allows, those that go for 20 yards or more. The Buckeyes gave up six in the 45-23 drubbing against the Wolverines — five of them for touchdowns. Knowles, who was hired away from Oklahoma State to transform the defense, spent much of his time in the past year on that particular problem.
“[We’re] gearing towards the matchup games, where we were not successful last year and mainly because of explosive plays,” Knowles said. “So you have a lot of study, a lot of planning. I think you’re seeing the benefits of that now.”
The nation’s No. 4 defense, allowing about 262 total yards per game, will first have to contend with Minnesota (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) on Saturday in Columbus before getting another shot at the Wolverines in this year’s edition of The Game on Nov. 25.
“We know what it felt like to come up short last year,” safety Sonny Styles said. “We’ve made a big emphasis on not leaving anything out on the field. As a defense, we’ve emphasized eliminating explosives on our mistakes. We can’t give them free plays.”
Ohio State (10-0, 7-0) will have to be on guard against overlooking beat-up Minnesota, a four-touchdown underdog limping toward its worst season since 2018. The Golden Gophers need a win over the Buckeyes or Wisconsin in the final week to get to bowl eligibility for a third consecutive season under P.J. Fleck.
“It’s a Big Ten game here in November, and so we have to do a great job of preparing for it like any other game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “[Like] any other game — it has no bearing on what’s coming down in the future.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes have become efficient and prolific. Last week they crushed Michigan State, 38-3, with first-year starting QB Kyle McCord throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns, with two of them being hauled in by Heisman Trophy hopeful Marvin Harrison Jr. It could have been worse for the Spartans, but Day backed off in the second half.
Georgia tops Ohio State in week 12 CFP rankings
Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers lost to Purdue last week, 49-30. Injuries have hurt their consistency.
“We’ve shown flashes on all three phases of being a really good football team,” Fleck said. “And when you look at the next 12 days of how they can keep improving and get better, especially with how hard they are playing, anything can happen.”
Farewell to Marv?
Harrison is in his third year but will likely play his last game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday before leaving early and becoming a likely first-round NFL draft pick next spring. Harrison just surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for a second consecutive season, the first player in school history to accomplish that. He had two touchdown catches last week and his first career rushing touchdown.
Ohio State’s best defensive player, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, could be back for his last game in the Horseshoe. Dealing with an arm injury, he could have played last week but was held out as a precaution, Day said.
Safety Josh Proctor (head) could also return after missing last week’s game, but safety Lathan Ransom will likely be out for the rest of the regular season, Day said. Defensive lineman Mike Hall is questionable after leaving the Michigan State game with an apparent injury.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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