Defense a priority as Ohio State opens spring practice

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio State’s wild 48-45 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl helped salve the wounded spirit of a Buckeyes team coming off a humiliating loss at Michigan that ruined their championship hopes.

C.J. Stroud set passing records in the Rose Bowl game, but the problems that had dogged Ohio State’s defense all season were still on display. In the Michigan and Utah games, the unit allowed a combined 950 yards and 87 points. The 42-27 setback at Michigan was the first loss to the hated rivals in eight seasons and first in the Jim Harbaugh era.

So changes ensued.

Rebuilding, reorganizing and rescheming the defense will be a focus for Ohio State in spring practice, which opened Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

The Buckeyes have a new defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles, who had transformed Oklahoma State’s defense and was a finalist last season for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. The Cowboys allowed just 16.8 points per game in the Big 12 and were No. 3 in yards allowed per game (273.6) among all Power 5 programs.

”We have speed everywhere, we have size everywhere,” Knowles said. ”The way guys move on the football field, it’s impressive to me. It’s my job to mold that into a cohesive unit and a defense.”

Knowles said the support he’s gotten within the program has allowed a ”hyper-focus” on the job at hand.

”I basically have everything I ever wanted, or anything every coach could ever want,” he said. ”When you dream about being a coach at this level, that’s it. All the resources.”

Ohio State also has a pair of new secondary coaches who will build that unit around cornerback Denzel Burke and safety Ronnie Hickman.

”Once we get on the field and these (new coaches) get a chance to see them move around, identify, diagnose, run to the football, work on some of the techniques they may…


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