COLUMBUS — The problem is obvious for Ohio State.
Rooting out what exactly is causing the problems in the Buckeyes secondary may not be quite as clear. But no matter what it ultimately is, Kerry Coombs wants the blame for it.
The returning defensive coordinator also isn’t going to rest until he figures it out and gets Ohio State back to the program’s high standard, which it obviously wasn’t even close to matching last week when Indiana torched a proud unit for 491 yards in a game that unexpectedly turned into a shootout. Maybe a trip to Illinois on Saturday doesn’t represent the most daunting test on paper, but the Buckeyes clearly can’t afford to waste any time in this abbreviated season as it searches for answers for breakdowns that could make or break the national-title chase.
“There’s constant questions about how we’re doing things — you’re always evaluating what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” Coombs said before practice on Tuesday. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. Most of the things are execution-based, but we’ve got to make sure we’re doing things that are the best for everybody that’s on the field.
“We have to fix the big plays, there’s no question about that. … Those four plays in particular, those are egregious. So, when you watch those plays, it doesn’t make you feel good. There are so many good things, you know, being ahead 35-7 and being where we’ve been in those situation, there are a lot of really, really good plays. But there’s no question that the focus ends up on those that don’t go well. Those are the ones that have all of our attention and will have it going forward. Those are fixable errors that have to be fixed. That’s my job.”
Coombs made no efforts to pass the buck elsewhere coming out of what was still a win over Indiana that also included a dominant defensive display when the Buckeyes were building a four-touchdown lead. Ohio State has talked repeatedly about how it would start the assessment of the damage with personnel, scheme and the way its coaches are teaching the game — and Coombs made it clear that all three are a reflection of him no matter what.
Ohio State has had issues at safety and slot cornerback, it’s seen individual battles on the perimeter even from stars like Shaun Wade and there were a handful of blown coverages that all have opened the door for the last three opponents to turn blowouts into higher matchups in the second half. There are dozens of possible excuses that could be made, but Coombs instead kept his focus on making sure there’s not a need for anybody to make them starting this weekend against Illinois.
“I think I have to do everything better,” Coombs said. “Whatever you see on the field is a reflection of what you’ve taught and how you’ve taught it. When any player at any position makes a mistake, as a coach you should take that personally — and I do. Those are things that I have to fix. I have to do a better job.
“I think it’s important and I tell the kids all the time: ‘When we make a mental mistake, that’s my fault. That’s something that I didn’t get coached well enough, taught well enough and that’s my responsibility.’ That’s where we’ve got to see improvement this week.”
That process was well underway on the practice field for Kerry Coombs and the Buckeyes on Tuesday.
The clock is ticking on a solution, with the next key evaluation coming this weekend.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, linebackers Tuf Borland and Pete Werner, offensive linemen Paris Johnson and Josh Myers, defensive lineman Jonathon Cooper and wide receiver Chris Olave talked with the media before practice on Tuesday. Those full comments are available below, and all Buckeyes press conferences can be streamed live on the Lettermen Row YouTube channel.