Tyleik Williams Ohio State Buckeyes Defensive Tackle Jim Knowles

Ohio State Football Notebook: ‘It changes the way you call the game’

Mitch Match

When defensive end Mitchell Melton took the field for the Buckeyes in the season opener last year, it was his first game action since the 2020 season opener.

Melton lost both the 2021 and 2022 seasons to injury, but played in 12 games last season. He saw snaps on defense in 10 games and finished the season with three tackles — all for losses — and a sack.

His season consisted of just 63 plays, which were two fewer than the 65 snaps that both Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau had in the win over Maryland last year.

Playing time wasn’t readily available last year, and the defensive end room for the Buckeyes is just as deep as it was a year ago. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles still sees a path to playing time for Melton, however.

“Mitch is that combination player,” Knowles explained. “In our four-down, he’s a guy that can do a lot of things. Drop. Fold in there. Make plays. You see some of that all the time. Really athletic. We are kind of loaded at that end position. So he’s gonna play there.”

Melton came to Ohio State as a linebacker but eventually moved to defensive end. That experience and versatility still has him as a possibility for Knowles’ favored hybrid Jack position. The Buckeyes haven’t shown it since 2022, but it’s still out there looming.

“But like I said last year — we haven’t needed it, but he’s a guy you would point to along with CJ Hicks,” Knowles said. “The long season, people get injured, you get a little light inside, it’s always hard on the defensive tackles. But if you’re going to play with three ends, Mitch is a guy who definitely can do all that. He has that.”

The Standard Is The Standard

There was a time when Jim Knowles would write off a certain number of big plays per game. The number was five, and as long as his defense held an offense to five or fewer explosive plays, good outcomes would be had.

That theory took some hits in 2022 and really didn’t make it to the 2023 season. There was also a thought at times during practice that, hey, you’re going to give up catches to receivers like Marvin Harrison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Emeka Egbuka. There’s no shame in it.

And while the no-shame part remains, the acceptability even in practice isn’t nearly as prevalent as it used to be. Especially as the secondary talent has gotten better and more consistent.

This spring, the receivers and the secondary competed relentlessly, and while social media may have seen the highlights, it was the Ohio State defensive backs who accepted nothing.

“Yeah, I think it’s become an expectation now,” Knowles said. “Our DBs are ‘BIA,’ best in America. We led the country in pass defense. I think it was 96th when I got here, and it was number one last year. So they they’ve taken that spirit. So it’s a competitive spirit. It’s an expectation now. It doesn’t matter who we’re going against. They view it as the standard.”

When Your Tackles Tackle

The Buckeyes lose three full-time starters on defense from last year and one part-time starter in defensive tackle Mike Hall who split time with returning part-time starter Ty Hamilton.

Hamilton and returning starting defensive tackle Tyleik Williams will again pair to be a formidable duo for the Ohio State defense this season.

Jim Knowles and defensive line coach Larry Johnson already know what they have in Williams and Hamilton, so this spring allowed them to really evaluate the younger defensive tackles that need to be reliable this season.

Depth is a necessity, but the Buckeyes have a good start up front with their two starting tackles, and Knowles isn’t taking them for granted.

“Yeah, I mean, you gotta play to your strengths, and that’s my job. ‘What do we have and what do we do best?'” Knowles said. “And when you have defensive tackles who — and I’ve said it before, it helped our defense so much last year — but when you have defensive tackles that actually make tackles, which is what we have right now, it changes the way you call the game.”

Williams (53) and Hamilton (38) combined for 91 tackles last season, which is the most for a pair of Ohio State defensive tackles since Johnathan Hankins (55) and Garrett Goebel (42) finished with 97 in 2012.

When there are players up front who are stopping the ball, a defensive coordinator like Jim Knowles doesn’t need to gamble as much by bringing extra defenders. Those extra defenders can then stay back and help prevent the big plays.

“It certainly helps you be in better shape on explosive plays on the back end,” Knowles said. “You don’t have to do a whole lot to help those guys out because they’re making tackles. So you gotta go with that. You gotta let those guys play, and they’re good, so you can’t get too far away from the scheme of having those defensive tackles make plays because they’re doing it and it works.”

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