clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Burning Questions: Has Jim Knowles solved Ohio State’s defensive issues?

The Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator is under scrutiny following a promising, but ultimately disappointing 2022.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 15 Ohio State Spring Game Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about the most important questions yet unanswered for the season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Burning Questions” articles here.

For the first 11 games of the 2022 season, Ohio State fans had reason to believe that the Ohio State defense had improved. After all, Ohio State was 11-0, and had been able to withstand some challenging road games at Penn State (Ohio State 44, Penn State 31) and at Maryland (Ohio State 43, Maryland 30) to get to that point. Surely the Buckeyes would be well-prepared against “That Team Up North”, a team that was decidedly built upon a conservative offensive attack, a team that was without its best running back in Blake Corum?

Cue the sad music

We all know what happened next. The Michigan Wolverines were able to repeatedly score long touchdowns against Ohio State via the air, with Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy connecting twice with Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (one touchdown reception for 69 yards, another for 75 yards), as well as Wolverines tight end Colston Loveland for a 45-yard touchdown reception, as well as on the ground, as Wolverines running back Donovan Edwards racing for two touchdowns to seal the victory, with one run going for 75 yards, and the dagger to the heart touchdown of 85 yards with only about three minutes remaining.

A chance for redemption was gifted to Ohio State, as the Buckeyes were ranked fourth and slated to play against Georgia in the first round of The College Football Playoff. As the fourth quarter began, Ohio State was precariously holding onto a 38-24 lead. Surely, Ohio State had learned the mistakes from the Michigan game, right?

Cue the sad music

Only 10 seconds into the 4th quarter, Georgia was able to score on a 76-yard touchdown pass from Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett to Bulldogs wide receiver Arian Smith, then completed a two-point conversion to Bulldogs wide receiver Ladd McConkey, to make the score 38-35. Ohio State was only able to muster a field goal in the fourth quarter, to make it 41-35. Then Georgia was able to drive down the field with under three minutes to play in the game to score the decisive touchdown, 42-41.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, after the heartbreaking loss, had this to say about his team’s defense, “If we’re going to win these games we can’t give up those big, explosive plays...”

The intensive spotlight and focus for the 2023 Ohio State football season will be entirely upon Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. The defensive collapses that came up at the most inopportune times during the 2022 season have placed Knowles squarely in the camp of being perpetually second-guessed.

Credit to Jim Knowles for recognizing that change is absolutely essential for the success of the 2023 defense. In an interview with several local beat reporters after the conclusion of Ohio State’s spring practices, Knowles said:

“It’s haunted me. But just haunting me, that doesn’t do anybody any good, except it just keeps me up. So if it’s a problem, you got to fix it. You got to take responsibility, take accountability, then you have to say, ‘OK, why did this happen?’ It was a matchup or somebody just not doing something right. Well, that all comes back to me. And so yeah, you kind of go back to the start. You look at everything, you look at your teaching progression. And then you have to learn.

You say, ‘OK, we’re in matchup games.’ Those were two matchup games. We did not, I did not get the job done. So then you have to say, OK, how do I do a better job of, from the start, planning out the defensive progressions for those matchup games. So you gotta go back to the beginning. Anytime you try to do something that’s a stop gap, or something that’s just for that week, to me, you’re doomed for failure. It’s got to become part of your progression. It’s gotta be in your mind from the start. The things that didn’t go well last year, how do I – from day one – start to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

What will we see from the 2023 Ohio State defense under Jim Knowles? Based upon other excerpts from the interview, it sounds like more defensive rotation throughout the unit, as well as a lofty goal that Ohio State fans will likely be eager to see upon the season’s conclusion.

“There’s the opportunity to be the best, in my mind,” he said. “There’s the opportunity to be the best. To make across-the-board improvements from what was already an improved defense, but the expectation to be a top-five defense that everyone can count on all the time. And that’s there...”

Ever since the 1996 season, when former Ohio State defensive coordinator Fred Pagac took over the role, theOSU defense has enjoyed the nickname of “The Silver Bullets.” Will 2023 be a season when the Buckeyes can truly claim that nickname? That is a Burning Question that Jim Knowles will be expected to answer this coming season.