Kerry Coombs claimed the defensive struggles of last season stemmed from a pandemic-shortened offseason, and I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt — like a big, dumb idiot.
The Buckeye defense was abysmal in 2020, ranking nearly dead last in all of FBS in pass defense. It nearly cost them the game against Indiana, it nearly cost them the game against Northwestern, and it did lead to a blowout loss in the national title game. Like many people, I thought many of their problems stemmed from poor play from a certain slow middle linebacker and inexperienced cornerbacks.
HOWEVER, it appears that none of that was actually the case, and it was almost certainly the result of a defensive coordinator that has absolutely no idea what he is doing. I almost want to apologize to Tuf Borland, because while he wasn’t the fastest man alive, he was put in a position to fail by a defensive coaching staff that is largely in over their heads and woefully unprepared for the job they are tasked with being paid millions of dollars to do.
I don't even really know where to begin.
Last week, we saw Ohio State let up over 400 yards of offense to Minnesota team that, by all accounts, shouldn’t be terrible — Mohamed Ibrahim injury notwithstanding — but definitely shouldn't be putting up that many yards against the Buckeyes. Once again, we tried letting Coombs and his staff get the benefit of the doubt with it being the first game of the season, on the road, in a Big Ten environment with a plethora of first-time starters. Fine.
And now here we are, at halftime of the Oregon game. Ohio State is trailing the Ducks 14-7, and despite only letting up 14 points in the opening half, the defense has done almost nothing right, and 110% of the blame can be pinned on the coaching staff.
For one, the substitutions make zero sense.
With no disrespect to any players in particular too much, because once again this is purely a coaching issue and Coombs and Al Washington putting their guys in the worst possible position, but there is no defensible reason for any linebackers outside of Cody Simon and Teradja Mitchell to be playing every snap except when they need a breather. In a 7-7 game, Ohio State trotted out Tommy Eichenberg and converted running back Steele Chambers as its two linebackers. You don't have to be a coaching wizard to know how that was going to end — Oregon scored an easy touchdown as two linebackers ran into each other and Bryson Shaw took a terrible angle as he has every single time he’s been on the field.
For whatever reason, Kerry Coombs and Al Washington simply refuse to put their best players on the field, and it is costing Ohio State dearly. Even when the right players are on the field, the scheming and run fits are so bad that it almost doesn’t even matter. Most of these linebackers have been in the program for multiple years now, and none of them appear to understand the defense that is being called. These are four and five-star talents out there. This is a coaching issue, not a personnel issue — at least when the coaching staff actually plays its good personnel and doesn’t hamstring itself even further with the bad ones.
It is painfully obvious to anyone with eyes what the starting defensive unit for this team should be, but for some reason Coombs and his guys feel the need to get every single guy in uniform on the sideline some snaps. Hell, might as well let Jesse Mirco some plays at linebacker at this rate. Let Quinn Ewers get some reps at safety! Why not! It isn’t anymore ridiculous than any of the other personnel choices this staff is making in an apparent attempt to make sure Oregon at least covers the spread if not wins the game outright. If you can make your life harder at every turn, everyone knows you simply must do it.
It is time for Ohio State to move on from Kerry Coombs, and potentially Al Washington as well. Coombs is a phenomenal recruiter, and has made a name for himself coaching up the Buckeyes’ defensive backs over the years, but he does not even remotely understand how to call a defense, and it is costing his team dearly. Washington is another great recruiter, but his linebackers haven’t gotten even remotely better during his time in Columbus, and more often than not his unit just looks hopelessly lost. A team with the amount of talent Ohio State has can’t afford to be this discombobulated and out of sync on defense. There are no more excuses.
Ryan Day is going to need to take a good, long look at his coaching staff after this game — even if the Buckeyes somehow figure out how to pull away with a win against Oregon.