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Football: Knowles using spring practice to enhance defense ‘to win every game’ in Year 2 at Ohio State

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Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles arrives at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the Buckeyes. Credit: Katie Good | Assistant Photo Editor

Ohio State’s defense is set to see even more of what makes Jim Knowles’ coaching scheme unique in his second season as defensive coordinator.

A little over a month since the Peach Bowl, Knowles said he’s watched a replay of the game once since Ohio State’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss at the end of last season.

The Buckeyes fell 42-41 against eventual-champion Georgia, giving up 533 yards of total offense — including 17 plays of 10 yards or more. While the sting from defensive breakdowns remains, Knowles said he’s dissected the film into positive takeaways to build on going into spring practice.

“I only watched it one time so far, probably, and then cut it up and put it into different places,” Knowles said. “Positives, obviously, in that the adjustments we made, the things we did in the third quarter, that show me and that can show our guys that we can have a defense that wins the national championship when you look at that. You want to go back and look at how a premier offense and a great quarterback, the things that they did to hurt us, we want to make sure that we look at those.”

Those big plays resulting in first downs — and some touchdowns — during the Peach Bowl and last season, in general, are the focus of Knowles’ approach to spring practice.

Knowles said Ohio State installed about “two-thirds” of his defensive scheme during his first season, notably configuring the 4-2-5 look with four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

Ahead of his second spring practice at Ohio State, Knowles said he enjoys experimenting with new defensive concepts during the springtime, which he thinks will consume “about 25 percent” of his emphasis, but priority will remain on fundamentals.

“I think we’ll want to look at some things, some ideas that I have in spring, in that 25 percent,” Knowles said. “But three-quarters of it has to be getting better at the base techniques, things we need to do to win every game.”

In the Buckeyes’ two losses last season to the Bulldogs and Michigan, they allowed 26 “big plays” of at least 10 yards, including six touchdowns of at least 45 yards.

Head coach Ryan Day said he thinks giving up those big plays isn’t sustainable to the program’s ability to achieve its goals, such as winning the Big Ten Conference or national championship, and it will be among the areas Ohio State will take steps toward addressing in March and April.

“If we’re going to win those games, we can’t give up big plays like that,” Day said. “Now, was that the only problem? No, but I think Jim knows that, and that’s something we got to get fixed in the offseason.”

Knowles arrived at Ohio State regarded for his “ mad scientist ” background as a defensive coordinator, and he wanted to help the Buckeyes’ “Silver Bullet” defense return to being near the top of college football .

Ohio State finished within the top 25 in major defensive categories, including No. 14 in total defense, in Knowles’ first season. After his first full campaign working with the Buckeyes’ defense, this spring will give Knowles a chance to enhance what they built on going toward his second year.

“Now that I have a year under the belt, my job is to say, ‘OK, with the guys we have coming back, what do they do best?” Knowles said. “It’s not what I know, but it’s what they do best.”

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