Buckeyes' Top-Ranked Defense Stumbles Again In BCS Championship Game

The Buckeyes rolled into New Orleans with the nation's top-rated defense

Jan. 8, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Here's how bad it was for Ohio State's once-mighty defense.

The Buckeyes had to compare which performance was worse - last year's 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS title game or Monday night's 38-24 loss to LSU in the BCS title game.

"The fact that we lost, it still hurts bad," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "But when we look at the film, it won't be as bad."

That's scant consolation for a group of defenders that walked out of the Superdome feeling pretty much the same as they did last January in Glendale, Ariz.

"It's tough to fathom, but we had a chance last year," defensive end Vernon Gholston said. "We should have learned from our mistakes. Came back here, kind of almost had the same results, so the blame's on us."

Gholston was talking about Ohio State's entire team, but many Buckeyes fans will point at the defense. It will be difficult for the defense to deflect the blame.

"We feel like we're a lot better than what we played tonight," free safety Anderson Russell said. "I'm not really sure what it was, if we were nervous or what."

The regular-season numbers back Russell up. The Buckeyes rolled into New Orleans with the nation's top-rated defense, allowing only 10.7 points and 225 yards per game.

They didn't quite match those figures on Monday.

The Tigers gained 326 yards. They also converted 11 of 18 third downs, which underscored the Buckeyes' inability to make a stop when they had to have one.

Feeding on a diet of feeble Big Ten squads, Ohio State had allowed 11 touchdowns all season. LSU put up five in the last three quarters.

Somewhere, legendary Ohio State head-crackers Jack Tatum, Tom Cousineau and Randy Gradishar are not smiling.

There are plenty of reasons the Buckeyes aren't sitting on back-to-back national titles, but a case can be made that their defense is the main culprit.

A unit that has performed so well in the last two regular seasons has mysteriously failed to show up in January.



Last season, the Buckeyes brought the No. 5 scoring defense into the BCS title showdown against Florida, conceding 12.7 points per game. The Gators erupted for 41.

The Buckeyes sat in a zone while Florida quarterback Chris Leak zeroed in on his receivers.

Ohio State learned from that experience.

Clearly determined not to be picked apart like a chicken dinner, the Buckeyes brought pressure, and early in the game appeared to have the Tigers rattled.

LSU was held to 57 yards on 17 plays in the first quarter.

The second quarter was a slightly different story. The Buckeyes allowed three touchdowns and 141 yards in 15 ugly minutes.

"We had some breakdowns," co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "We didn't execute. They made a couple plays. We had a couple penalties. Then we started scrambling a little bit. We didn't execute very well in that second quarter."

Leading 10-3, the Buckeyes committed two big mental mistakes to help LSU on its first touchdown drive. First, defensive tackle Todd Denlinger drew a personal foul for a late, out-of-bounds hit on LSU's Keiland Williams.

Two plays later, star linebacker James Laurinaitis grabbed a face mask to give the Tigers the ball at Ohio State's 13. The Tigers scored on the next play to tie it at 10-10.

Another personal foul, on linebacker Austin Spitler, set up LSU's fourth touchdown. Spitler's foul gave LSU the ball at Ohio State's 29. Three plays later, Early Doucet caught a pass in the right flat, slithered out of a tackle by free safety Anderson Russell and danced into the end zone to give LSU a 31-10 lead.

And that was pretty much that.

"To play against a team like that, you've got to play error free," Heacock said. "That's the only chance you've got."

The lone highlight-reel play on defense came when cornerback Malcolm Jenkins picked off a Matt Flynn pass on the left sideline and returned it 23 yards to the LSU 11, setting up an Ohio State touchdown.

Meanwhile, Laurinaitis recorded 18 tackles, breaking the BCS record. Make no mistake, the defense wasn't embarrassed this time. But it didn't play near well enough to bring home the crystal BCS trophy.

If the Buckeyes have forgotten defense wins championships, they only need to look into their own trophy case for proof.

Defense played a big role the last two times Ohio State sewed up a national title.

In the Rose Bowl after the 1968 season, Ohio State overcame USC and Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson 27-16, recovering three Trojans fumbles and intercepting two passes.

In the Fiesta Bowl after the 2002 season, the Buckeyes again forced five turnovers in a memorable 31-24 double-overtime win over Miami.

Well, these Buckeyes aren't those Buckeyes. Not even close.