Jim Knowles won’t be romantic the moment he steps on the court in his first game at Ohio State on Saturday. That would just distract him.
Asked Tuesday if he would like to take a second to immerse himself in the stage and environment of Ohio Stadium before the Buckeyes’ season opener against Notre Dame, the first-year Scarlet and Gray defensive coordinator said “No. I will. Stay focused and in a lock-down mentality and do my job. That’s what the players need.”
That’s not because the Buckeyes defense that Knowles has rebuilt over the past eight months won’t be well-prepared for its grand unveiling. In two press conferences ahead of Ohio State’s matchup with the Irish Combat Team, Knowles only expressed confidence in his unit and made no excuses that he had to prepare for the Buckeyes’ full-scale defensive turnaround. .
Knowles said the Buckeyes had spared no effort in their preseason preparations, giving him more confidence in Ohio State’s ability to make its defensive debut.
“We’re ready. We’re 100 percent ready. … We put them through the ordeal, we fight the best offense in the country every day, we push, stimulate, poke, and try to put the They pull as far as they can. So wherever they are right now, it’s 100 percent. That’s the game plan I have. So, yeah, I’m confident.”
Last year, Notre Dame ranked 19th nationally in scoring offense and 20th in passing offense. In these same defensive categories, the Buckeyes are ranked 38th and 96th, respectively. But for a number of reasons, this year is not a replica of 2021 for either unit.
Fighting Ireland lost several key parts of last season’s offense and will have a starting quarterback for the first time under Tyler Buchner’s center. Ohio State has recovered most of the same pieces from last season’s defense, but its new plan under Knowles is expected to result in sweeping statistical changes. Ryan Day said in July that he is aiming for a top-10 overall defense by the end of the year, while Knowles said he was looking at a top-5.
They just have one energy level, one confidence, players buzzing around, playing fast, playing violently, creating chaos out there. It will be fun. “– Ryan Day on OSU’s defense
That’s a high bar for a team that ranked 59th in overall defense a year ago, but neither coach has said anything this week that contradicted those expectations — even after the Before the matchup of the 5th ranked team in the country.
“I think we had a very good preseason. I think the attitude was very good. I think the toughness was very good,” Day said. “I think their attention to detail, the edge they have, this team wants to get better. They have an edge over them. They feel like they have something to prove. But that doesn’t mean anything unless you Going to the game on Saturday night. So we’re going to keep going and try to find a way to get to 1-0.”
Of course, the Buckeyes offense won’t matter to most as the 2022 season begins. The defending national leader in yards per game last year, and Day’s unit may be this year’s favorite to get everything done in the same category.
For this reason, Ohio State’s national championship hopes may depend on defensive changes that Knowles can make. But while some head coaches may look at their defense through their hands on this premise, Day said he was pleased to see the Buckeyes bring what they showed on the practice range to the horseshoes on Saturday. .
“It was great to see it. Just a bunch of energetic, confident people,” Day said. “That’s what’s going to happen with this thing, that’s the way they practice, it’s just the whole team. You know, if you come out and watch practice, you can see it. There’s just one energy level, one confidence, the players. Buzzing around, hitting fast, hitting violently, creating chaos in there. It’s going to be fun.”
What has stood out for Day and his company over the past few months? It starts with the defensive line, which pretty much every Ohio State coach and player who was asked about it recently rave about it. Fourth-year safety Ronnie Hickman says there’s a “different feeling” on the front lines this season, and third-year center Luke Wipler says he’s “tired of watching movies and seeing them do it on that side of the Buckeyes” Great things” practice.
Given Buchner’s inexperience and Notre Dame’s commitment to running the ball, the performance of the Ohio State defense is especially important for the Irish. But Day also applauds the defensive improvements in other positional groups.
“I think when you look at the frontcourt, I think they definitely create a lot of interference in the frontcourt, chasing after the quarterback and creating problems in the running game,” Day said. “Linebackers have improved a lot. They see things and diagnose things faster. But the middle school game is also at a pretty high level. So I think across the board, it’s just an overall improvement. I think the players Played with more confidence. I think it was probably a combination of players who had more experience on that side of the ball and then embraced the new program.”
Knowles said it’s not just a new plan the Buckeyes adopted before the season. Several Buckeyes said the 2022 team is closer than its predecessor, and Knowles was impressed with the mentality the team cultivated in the offseason.
If all goes according to plan Saturday, the Buckeyes appear poised to make a defensive statement against top opponents early in the season.
“You’re installing your program, but you’re building a mindset all the time,” Knowles said. “You’re building a mentality of excellence, that’s how we do it, that’s how we do it every day, we’re going to practice on grass, that’s how the game is played. So it’s really about expectations.
“Once the players know you care, they’re going to fight for you and I believe we’ve gotten to that point.”