A little over a week ago, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles lamented the unknowns of the first game of the season.
“First game is always like, ‘What are you gonna get?’ Could get triple option. I mean, really. Seriously, you could get anything, and then yet not only a new season, but new people. You better be good at your fundamentals because you just don’t know what you’re gonna get.”
Well, this past Saturday against Indiana, the Buckeyes got the triple option.
Let this be a lesson to the rest of the coaching world out there, be careful what you speak into existence, especially in the first game of the season.
And yet, the Buckeyes handled the Hoosiers’ surprise turn to the option impeccably well. Indiana rushed for just 71 yards on 33 carries, with a long rush of just 11 yards.
Ohio State did so well against it that it almost seemed as if they prepared for it.
But they didn’t.
“I think we practiced it five plays or less, and that’s stretching it,” Knowles said of his defense’s preparation for the option.
Still, the Buckeyes had all of the lanes and angles covered. The pitch man was covered. The quarterback was given unwinnable options.
The five reps in camp against the triple option was essentially like an evacuation drill.
Like, “Look, we don’t ever plan on having to evacuate this building, but if we do, he’s where everybody goes.”
And on Saturday, almost everybody went exactly where they were supposed to go.
“I was pleased we were able to make the adjustments quickly and the communication was good,” Knowles said. “And guys were really locked in and helping each other and talking it out. They understand the system, so when I said something they got it, and I was happy with the way it went.”
The communication was key, from the top down. Knowles has been at this a long time, so he’s seen every kind of offense under the sun. He knows how to approach each of them, but being able to relay those hows to the players on the fly when they haven’t practiced against it much in practice — and then the defense being able to implement the message — that’s an indicator of a defense that can handle many different kinds of the unknown.
“I think it’s an indicator,” Knowles said. “It’s an indicator, because you’re right, when you’re sitting up there in the box, and you see that, you’re like, ‘Okay, I know what to do. But I haven’t made a legal tackle since 1986.’ So I mean, I know what to do. But do they know what to do? Yeah, so it’s an indicator that we can handle the controlled chaos that happens during a game.”
The Ohio State defense worked as one. The defensive line won the line of scrimmage, the linebackers and safeties handled what got through, and the cornerbacks remained ever vigilant for an actual pass. Through it all, the Buckeyes gave up a long play from scrimmage of just 24 yards.
Everything that Knowles saw on Saturday was encouraging, but there is still some question about what exactly the Buckeyes have on defense. Defending the triple option — even without knowing it’s coming — is much different than defending an offense that will threaten with run and pass equally.
So while the Buckeyes executed their building evacuation efficiently on Saturday, there are still questions about what will happen when there actually is a fire.
“You know, that first game was really kind of an anomaly because they came out with triple option,” Knowles said. “So I think we still have to perform against conventional offense. Rushing the passer. We didn’t get much of a chance to do that. Contest against regular drop-back passes. So we just need to grow more against conventional offensive systems.”