Between the 603 yards and 41 points surrendered, what many Ohio State fans saw from the Buckeyes’ defense against Michigan on Saturday was one of the worst performances in program history.
Luke Fickell feels otherwise.
A nose guard on Buckeye teams that saw undefeated records ruined by the Wolverines in 1993, 1995, and 1996, Fickell knows just how hard it can be to win The Game. So while the unit that he’s now in charge of may have just given up 41 points, the Ohio State defensive coordinator is just grateful that his offensive counterpart scored 42.
“What do you mean what went wrong? Did we win? Did we win? Did we win?,” Fickell responded rhetorically, when asked about the Buckeyes' defensive issues in their 42-41 win over the Wolverines. “I’ve been up there quite a few times in my 18-year career here and have not come away with a win.
“I went into that game undefeated three of my four years and didn’t come away with success. Whether it would’ve been a 42-41 win, I bet you I would be really happy to have one of those back.”
That’s not to say that Fickell is unaware that he has some work to do.
Whether it be the backside screens that burned the Buckeyes throughout Saturday’s contest, or a trio of fourth quarter touchdown drives directed by Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, Ohio State hardly looked like a championship-caliber defense during its 12th win in as many outings this season. But while Fickell admitted that his unit didn’t play to its potential against the Wolverines, the Columbus native was quick to remind that the Buckeyes’ top goal was met in the Big House.
“We know there’s things we have to correct. Momentum and things happen, and we didn’t play great on the defensive side of the ball. So there’s a lot of things to correct,” Fickell said. “Every single week we have objectives, and the last objective last week was win. And you know what? We came away with a win.”
Just as his position coach noted, Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry admitted that there’s an art to balancing the enjoyment of a big win against an archrival that came despite an unimpressive defensive effort. While scoring more points than the other team is ultimately what matters most, a re-watching of the game will show that adjustments -- no matter how big or small -- are more of a need than a want for the Buckeyes as they prepare for a Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State this upcoming weekend.
“The objective every game is to go out and win, so we’re really glad that we did that. Winning is not easy at all. Every time you win, you gotta step back and say, ‘Hey, we did our job. This is what we go out there to do,’” Perry said. “Also, when you turn on the film, you’ve got to face the facts and realize that there were some mistakes made and our coaches -- we had a chip on our shoulder -- but it’s nothing too urgent like we’ve got to throw out the whole defense and start over again. We just gotta correct up what we know how to do.”
Asked if Ohio State can beat the Spartans playing the way it did defensively against the Wolverines, Fickell quipped, “If our offense scores more points than they do.” But the Buckeye defenders remain confident that they’ll be carrying more of their required weight against MSU than they did against Michigan, with junior cornerback Doran Grant leaving the following message for worried Ohio State fans:
“Just tune in Saturday.”