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Cover Six: The best defensive performance since 2019

Ohio State beat Indiana 23-3 behind a dominant defensive showing from the Silver Bullets.

Ohio State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

In football terms, Cover Six is a zone coverage that combines Cover Four and Cover Two. While on the field it is designed to negate the deep pass and offer extra support underneath to protect against the run, in this case, Cover Six is a weekly column focused on Ohio State’s defense under coordinator Jim Knowles.

Every week, it will cover six aspects of the defense’s performance, including big moments, key stats, film analysis, and areas in need of improvement. Join me as I follow the defense as it tries to bring back the Silver Bullets swagger that we know and love!

Cover 1: The defense was absolutely dominant

Coming into the season there were a lot of concerns and nervous energy about the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes haven’t had a good unit since 2019, and with questions at offensive line and quarterback, a good defense was needed this year more than ever.

Entering his second season, Jim Knowles had the unenviable task of returning this defense to its former glory or facing fan outrage that he has maybe never seen before in his coaching career. While it’s too early to say all the defensive woes are fixed and this will assuredly be a top-five unit, I can’t help but be impressed after Week 1.

The Buckeyes defense held Indiana to 153 yards on offense. Their quarterbacks combined to go 9-of-20 for 82 yards. They had a combined 71 rushing yards on 33 carries, which averages out to 2.2 yards per carry. All of this while facing an offense they didn’t prepare for since Indiana came out running the triple option.

By holding the Hoosiers to three points, the Buckeyes did something they haven’t done since October of 2019. Now before you say it’s just Indiana, over the past four seasons Ohio State has allowed bad teams to consistently put up points on them. They still have a lot to prove, but this was a very encouraging sign for the Silver Bullets.

Cover 2: A new ‘Rushmen’ package?

Larry Johnson has made famous his ‘Rushmen’ package, utilizing the flexibility and pass-rushing ability of his defensive ends by putting an extra defensive end or two on the interior in pass-rushing situations. Against Indiana, Johnson debuted the 2023 version of the Rushmen package, including putting second-year pass rusher Caden Curry at defensive tackle.

Early in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-11 with Indiana backed up against the end zone, Johnson substituted the Rushmen package, which put Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall, Caden Curry, and J.T. Tuimoloau all on the field at the same time. That is a scary quartet of pass rushers. There were not many chances to utilize this package against Indiana, but I expect to see good things from this group this season.

Cover 3: Sonny Styles is a freak

The Sonny Styles hype has been at an all-time high since he reached campus, but it reached a fever pitch this offseason. Knowles hasn’t done anything to quiet the hype, essentially admitting that Styles is rarely if ever going to leave the field, and praising him for his ability to play multiple positions.

Styles was arguably the best player on the field Saturday, and while his stat line may not have looked impressive, his impact was felt. Styles finished with four tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was all over the field, showcasing his unreal speed but also an ability to quickly diagnose plays and find the ball. Styles is going to be a key player for this defense, and Knowles is going to be able to use him in unique ways.

Against Indiana, Styles lined up all over the field, showcasing his ability to be the ultimate chess piece.

Cover 4: Proctor did a nice job, but can he keep it up?

After a long battle for the starting adjustor position between Josh Proctor, Malik Hartford, and Ja’Had Carter, Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano gave Josh Proctor the nod at starting adjustor.

Proctor, a super senior, had shown flashes through his career, but hasn’t been able to maintain a high level of play. Ryan Day and Knowles seem to believe in him, and Proctor showed why early in the game. The safety may be a liability against passing teams, but he was perfect against the triple option, showing an elite ability to diagnose the play and come downhill to make a stop.

In his Tuesday press conference, Day said that Proctor has done enough to hold on to the starting job, so here’s hoping he can maintain the level of play we saw against Indiana.

Cover 5: Please be real… I need this!

One of the biggest issues with the Buckeye defense last season was the secondary. Anyone with a right arm and a football could put up 250+ yards on this defense. The secondary was young and injured, and is one of the main reasons Ohio State lost to Michigan and Georgia.

Again, it was Week 1, but the secondary looked amazing. All offseason we heard how the defensive backs were getting their hands on more passes. Ohio State was credited with four passes deflected on 20 pass attempts, and that number feels low. After a disappointing 2022 season, Denzel Burke had two passes deflected and looked like the lockdown corner we saw in 2021.

If Ohio State is going to beat Michigan and make the national championship, they’ll need this secondary to be real… and need to see it against much better competition.

Cover 6: Hero Kanu’s first sack!

Ohio State only had one sack against Indiana, and it came from an unlikely source. Redshirt freshman Hero Kanu made a great move and notched the first sack of his career. Kanu is at best the 5th defensive tackle in the rotation. If Kanu can get after the quarterback in his limited snaps, Ohio State will have arguably the deepest interior defensive line in the country!

On this sack, Kanu does a great job winning against the right guard. He displays a quick first step and the power to push the guard into the quarterback’s lap. Once the quarterback was in reach, Kanu made sure to finish the job. This is the first of hopefully many sacks in his career.

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