Football: Coombs answers criticism following Oregon loss

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Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs walks off the field before the Ohio State-Oregon game Sept 11. Ohio State lost 28-35. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Questions surrounded the Buckeyes and their defensive scheme after they allowed over 300 passing yards per game last season — the most in the Big Ten Conference.

Even more uncertainty loomed after Ohio State surrendered 464 yards to Mac Jones and No. 1 Alabama after it lost the national championship game in January. The glaring issue ballooned into a greater one after the Buckeyes allowed 505 yards of total offense to No. 12 Oregon — over 230 both on the ground and through the air.

Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs faced the music after the loss Saturday. In the first game with fans packed in Ohio Stadium in nearly two years, the Buckeyes’ defense allowed the Ducks to run and throw rampantly, snapping a streak of 26-consecutive home victories.

“I’m disappointed. That’s how I feel,” Coombs said. “I hate losing, I hate it with a passion. You don’t come to Ohio State to get beat. You don’t come to Ohio State to get beat in the ‘Shoe, so I’m disappointed.”

According to Coombs and head coach Ryan Day, Oregon operated a cracked offensive scheme against Ohio State’s man-to-man coverage and the Ducks overloaded one side of the field. From there, the Buckeyes left open space and Oregon capitalized.

Coombs said the Buckeyes didn’t expect the Ducks to attack the boundary and perimeter as much as they did. Overall, Oregon averaged nearly seven yards per play.

Coombs said it’s his responsibility to diagnose plays from the sideline and use proper leverage to counter opposing techniques. That’s his job, he said, and he took full responsibility for the results.

“Everything that happens on a Saturday that could happen better defensively is going to be my responsibility,” Coombs said. “We are actively working every series when we come off the sideline to make adjustments and changes and do that appropriately. Again, that’s my responsibility. It’s frustrating when that doesn’t get done.”

Oregon junior running back CJ Verdell accounted for three touchdowns alone and ran for 161 yards, exploding for a 77-yard score on just the third offensive snap of the second half. The Ducks completed eight plays of 15 or more passing yards and six rushes of 10-plus rushing yards.

More than 20 different Buckeyes were credited with at least one tackle Saturday, but Coombs said he doesn’t think too many players are getting in on the action.

He also added that the standard of the Buckeyes’ defense is “one of excellence,” and he’s been comfortable with the scheme that’s been used.

“I think that the defensive structure that has been in place has been a successful one and one that a lot of folks are really comfortable with,” Coombs said. “I think we have to execute; we have to prepare; we have to do a good job of having our kids in the right places to make the right plays. I will own all of it.”

Ohio State experienced similar issues in Minnesota during Week 1. The Golden Gophers both threw and ran for over 200 yards, but the Buckeyes’ offense overpowered Minnesota’s defense for 45 points on just 48 plays. A defensive touchdown on Garrett’s scoop and score also helped, especially considering Ohio State didn’t force a turnover against Oregon.

Day said he and the coaching staff will review game film to find issues to correct, and that, ultimately, the final decisions on the field fall on him.

“I think that we’re still very, very talented and we still did a lot of good things,” Day said. “We got some good stops, but it wasn’t good enough. I think in terms of eliminating explosive plays, that’s what we want to do with this style of defense. If that’s not happening, then we’re not executing the defense properly.”

Senior linebacker Teradja Mitchell, who was on the team during their last regular-season loss to Purdue in 2018, said he feels a huge responsibility to help the Buckeyes bounce back from the loss. Despite criticism surrounding how the Ohio State defense operates, Mitchell said the driving force to improve rests within each player.

“The scheme is the scheme, but at the end of the day, there has to be a ‘want to,’ ” Mitchell said. “We got to constantly keep striving to get better, and we’re going to get there, for sure. Everybody’s got to want to buy in and we’ll get there.”

Since rejoining Ohio State prior to the 2020 season, Coombs has faced heavy skepticism for the performance of the Buckeyes’ defense.

To the doubters and critics, Coombs acknowledged them by saying he’s ultimately responsible for the defense. He said he doesn’t take his role lightly and assured the naysayers that “we will get better.”

“To have the opportunity to be a football coach at Ohio State in this role is a blessing,” Coombs said. “I don’t think there’s any question that we have to do things differently going forward. Obviously, the result today is not acceptable. We have to do things differently.”

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