‘Playing fast, practicing violence’ In pre-season, Ohio State defense ‘100% ready’ for big reveal against Notre Dame

Jim Knowles won’t feel romantic the moment he steps onto the field in his first game in Ohio State on Saturday. This would only distract from his unique focus.

Asked Tuesday if he would take a second to plunge into the stage and conditions at Ohio Stadium ahead of the Bucks season opener against Notre Dame, the Scarlet and Gray first-year defense coordinator said, “No. I’m going to stay focused and in a closed mindset and do my job. That’s what the players need.”

This isn’t a concern that Buckeye Defense Knowles, which has rebuilt it over the past eight months, won’t be well-prepared for its big reveal. In his last two press conference appearances before Ohio State’s game with the Irish Fighters, Knowles expressed nothing but confidence in his unit and made no excuses about the short amount of time he had to prepare the Buckeyes for an extensive defensive turn.

Knowles said the Buckeyes left no stone unturned in pre-season preparation, which fuels his belief in what Ohio State can do amid their first defensive start.

“We’re ready. We’re 100% ready to go. … We put them in the crucible, take the nation’s best attack every day, we push, nudge, shove them and try to stretch them as far as we can go. Wherever they are now, it’s 100%. And that’s what I’m asking of the game plan.” So yeah, I’m sure of that.”

Last year, Notre Dame finished 19th in scoring and 20th offense offense in the country. In those same categories defensively, the Buckeyes ranked 38th and 96th, respectively. But for many reasons, this year isn’t exactly a replica of 2021 for either unit.

The Fighting Irish lost several key pieces from last season’s attack and will have their first under-centre quarterback in Tyler Buechner. Ohio State is bringing back most of the same pieces from last season’s defense, but its new scheme under Knowles is expected to result in sweeping statistical changes. Ryan Day said in July that he aims to have a top 10 defense by the end of the year, and Knowles said he is considering a top five.

They just have a level of energy, and confidence, and the guys get around to playing fast, playing violence, and creating havoc out there. And that would be fun to watch.”– Ryan Day in defense of OSU

That’s a high number for a group that finished 59th in overall defense a year ago, but nothing any of the coaches said this week contradicted those expectations – even before facing the country’s No. 5 team.

“I think we had an excellent preparatory period. I think the attitudes were excellent. I think the durability was excellent,” Day said. “I think their attention to detail, their superiority, this team wants to be good. And they have an advantage to them. They feel they have something to prove. But that doesn’t mean anything until you go play Saturday night. So we will continue to work on that and try to find a way to get to 1-0.”

Of course, Buckeye’s offense isn’t of much importance to most people as the 2022 season kicks off. He may have been the ruling national leader in yards per game last year, and the Dai unit is the favorite to finish this year at the top of the same category when all is said and done.

For that reason, Ohio State’s national title hopes may hinge on the defensive changes Knowles can make. But while some head coaches may be watching their defense through their hands given that premise, Day said he’s excited to see the Buckeyes bring what they showed on the training ground to Horseshoe on Saturday.

“It would be great to see it. Just a bunch of guys running with great energy and great confidence,” Day said. You know, if you go out and watch the training, you can see it. They just have a level of energy, and confidence, and the guys get around to playing fast, playing violence, and creating havoc out there. And that would be fun to watch.”

What has distinguished Dai and the company in particular over the past two months? It starts with the defensive line, which has won superlatives from every Ohio State coach and player recently asked about it. Safety fourth year Ronnie Hickman said the front line has a “different feel” this season, and third-grader Luke Whippler said he was “sick and tired of watching movies and seeing them do great things on this side of the ball” at Buckeye practices.

Given Buchner’s inexperience and Notre Dame’s commitment to running the ball, Ohio State’s defensive line performance will be especially important against the Irish. But Day also threw his hat at the improvements that other stance groups have made in defense as well.

“I think when you look up front, I think they definitely create a lot of turbulence up front and they chase the quarterback and they create problems up front in the sprinting game,” Day said. “The midfield players are much better. They see things and diagnose them faster. But the secondary also plays at a very high level. So I think across the board, it’s just an overall improvement. I think the players are playing with more confidence. I think it’s probably a combination of Players on that side of the ball with more experience then adopt the new plan.”

Knowles said it’s more than just the new scheme the Buckeyes embraced before the season. Several Buckeyes said the 2022 squad has a closer bond than the team that preceded it, and Knowles expressed admiration for the mentality the group developed over the course of the holiday season.

If all goes together as planned on Saturday, the Buckeyes looks set to make a defensive statement against a top-tier opponent early in the season.

“You’re fixing your schema, but all the time you’re building a mindset,” Knowles said. “You build a mentality of excellence and that’s how we do it and that’s how we’re going to do it every day and we’re going to do it on the grass in practice and that’s how the game is going. So it’s about expectations.

“Once the players know you’re interested, they’ll go to the wall for you, and I think we’re at that point.”

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