The Ohio State defense has not yet forced a turnover this season, marking the first time since 2004 that the Buckeyes have gone the first two games of the year without intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble.
It’s certainly different than the 2016 season when the Buckeyes forced nine turnovers over their first two games.
Jim Knowles came to Ohio State to be the guy who would fix this defense, and while the first two games are a definite improvement, people are still waiting for that first turnover.
The Buckeyes are playing a more aggressive style of ball, which should result in more turnovers. The fact that nothing has happened in that area yet is disappointing, but Knowles isn’t losing any hope.
“You know, turnovers, takeaways, they’re one part of the metric to being successful on defense,” Knowles explained this week. “I think they come as guys get more comfortable in the system. And when you’re more comfortable, you can see the forest through the trees and you’re able to take more chances because you feel comfortable in the system. So, I don’t like it, but am I concerned? I’m concerned about everything all the time. That’s just one thing.”
Knowles understands that turnovers aren’t the end-all, be-all for a defense. He was the defensive coordinator at Duke in 2012 when the Blue Devils forced four turnovers in back-to-back games against No. 12 Florida State and No. 13 Clemson. Duke lost those games 48-7 and 56-20, respectively.
“I mean, how do you do that?” Knowles reflected and laughed. “So, takeaways are just one part of the metric. But we review it with the team, we go over our goals.”
The Buckeyes are currently allowing just 11 points per game and 264.5 yards of total offense per game. Both numbers are winning metrics regardless of the number of turnovers that are also included.
“The thing about defense is it’s a ‘right now’ proposition. Either you stop them or you don’t, that’s the way I look at it,” Knowles said. “Taking the ball away is one way to stop them. Getting off the field on third down is another way to stop them. Then sometimes the ball ends up in the red zone. Either we did it to ourselves, or sometimes it just gets there through other ways, it doesn’t matter. Then it becomes the field goals, and I think that’s one area we’ve been doing very well. So, there are a lot of metrics you know, takeaways one of them. We want that to be better.”
For the guys on the field playing defense, sure they want to create some turnovers, but they are also motivated by how well they have been playing so far. They have wanted to be part of a great defense for years and they believe they are now on their way.
But nickel Tanner McCalister knows Knowles better than anybody else on the team. He played for him at Oklahoma State for the previous four years. McCalister has a pretty good feel for how his coach is viewing the current situation.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s bothered by it, just because when you look at ranking defenses and things like that, turnovers play a part,” McCalister said this week. “But I’m sure Coach Knowles was more happy about us shutting down, basically just stopping them from scoring. Just stopping the offense from putting the ball in the end zone or putting points on the board.
“I mean, he’s satisfied, but he’s probably gonna want all the statistics and things like that. He’s gonna want some turnovers, and I think if our D-line keeps playing like they are playing, guys are gonna throw the ball and it’s gonna bring opportunities for turnovers. We definitely work on it in practice, just punching at the ball, trying to get the ball out. So, I think they’ll come, but yeah, I don’t think Coach Knowles is too worried about it.”
Turnovers are part of football and they will eventually happen. One of the reasons why Knowles and company expect “eventually” to be sooner than later is because the defense is getting more and more comfortable. Having a better feel for this new defense allows defenders to be a little more anticipatory, and even gamble a bit.
“That’s definitely true because when guys get more comfortable, you can take a little more chances,” McCalister said. “You feel comfortable in the defense to know, ‘Okay, this play might be coming, so let me cheat’ and maybe you steal one. Things like that happen, but right now everybody’s doing their job. And then we’re not allowing many points, which is good. But yeah, like he says, as guys get more comfortable, as time goes by, I think guys will be able to take more chances.”