In less than one year – in one spring of 15 practices, one fall camp and 10 unbeaten football games to be exact – Coach Jim Knowles has installed a new defense and rebuilt a unit that was one of the worst in the country in 2021 (59th in total defense; 89th in long scrimmage plays; 96th in passing yards; 100th in third down conversions) and turned it into a Top 10 defense nationally. Ohio State is 7th in total defense (271.5), 5th in first downs allowed (135), 6th in third down conversions (.279; 41-147), 6th against the pass (161.2 ypg), 7th in scoring (15.6 ppg), 14th in efficiency (113.9) and 18th vs. the run (110.3) so far in 2022.
FOX game analyst Joel Klatt said. “I don’t know if there is an assistant coach in America who has done more than Jim Knowles.”
Perhaps most importantly, the players on Ohio State’s defense have bought in to the Knowles brand of teaching, coaching and leading a defense.
“They’re buying in,” Knowles said after a 54-10 win over Iowa. “It doesn’t matter what the score is or who we’re playing, we’re going to operate with the mentality of going out there and stopping them every time. If we’re playing with that kind of mentality and (the opposing) offense is struggling, you see us rise up. And a time is going to come when we’re going to need that mentality when the game is close.”
Ohio State is 7th in total defense (271.5), 5th in first downs allowed (135), 6th in third down conversions (.279; 41-147), 6th against the pass (161.2 ypg), 7th in scoring (15.6 ppg), 14th in efficiency (113.9) and 18th vs. the run (110.3) so far in 2022. The Buckeyes are also 20th nationally with 69 tackles-for-loss.
The defense has forced 17 turnovers – 10 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries – that, coupled with just eight lost turnovers by the offense – has the program positioned 10th nationally in turnover margin at .90 per game.
Ohio State’s defense does not have one player on it who was a first-team all-Big Ten Conference pick in 2021, and it only features one player who was a second-team honoree. Ohio State’s defense has also been hampered by injury, especially at cornerback where five different players have been called upon to start with 15 cumulative games missed within the group because of injury. Credit Knowles’ teaching ability and his leadership as the defense has been able to plug in new starters each week without a drop-off in production.
A pair of linebackers – Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers – lead Ohio State’s defense with 92 and 62 tackles, respectively. Eichenberg ranks first in the Big Ten and fourth in the Power 5 with 57 solo tackles and he ranks fourth and 14th in the Big Ten and Power 5, respectively with 11.0 tackles for loss.
Ohio State’s defensive line is led by four sophomores – DEs JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer; and DTs Tyliek Williams and Michael Hall Jr. – who have combined for 23.0 TFLs with three of them recording at least 5.5 TFLs apiece.
Three safeties start each game and two of them – Lathan Ransom and Ronnie Hickman – rank third and fourth on the team, respectively, in tackles with 54 and 41.
Eichenberg is a semifinalist for three major awards: the Chuck Bednarik Award, Butkus Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Ransom is a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award.
And Tuimoloau joins the two as an All-American candidate and had a generational effort in the win at Penn State, being involved in four turnovers that led to 21 Ohio State points and finishing with 6 tackles, 3 TFLs (2 sacks), 2 INTs including a pick-6, a FF, FR and a PBU.