Jim Knowles knows defense, and Ohio State isn't messing around
Did you really think Ohio State was going to allow Michigan to enjoy leisure time in the pool without jumping in with a cannonball?
The Buckeyes made the biggest coordinator splash we will see in the Big Ten this offseason Tuesday evening, persuading Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to switch OSUs and come to Ohio State.
For Knowles, overhauling a defense is nothing new. When Mike Gundy hired him from Duke in 2017, the Cowboys were among the leakiest defenses in the wide-open Big 12. This year they were among the national leaders in just about every important category.
Oklahoma State 2017 defense
- Scoring defense (85th nationally)
- Total defense (79th)
- Yards Per Play (56th)
- Run defense (38th)
- Pass defense (117th)
- Third-down defense (68th)
- Sacks (42nd)
- Tackles for loss (19th)
Oklahoma State 2021 defense
- Scoring defense (7th)
- Total defense (3rd)
- Yards Per Play (4th)
- Run defense (5th)
- Pass defense (12th)
- Third-down defense (2nd)
- Sacks (1st)
- Tackles for loss (1st)
Compare that to the current state of Ohio State’s defense.
Ohio State 2021 defense
- Scoring defense (25th)
- Total defense (50th)
- Yards Per Play (38th)
- Run defense (20th)
- Pass defense (97th)
- Third-down defense (100th)
- Sacks (28th)
- Tackles for loss (40th)
The ideal rehabber
Like Bob Vila or a Property Brother, Knowles is the type of guy you want around for a rehab project. And given the caliber of prospects the Buckeyes recruit in their defensive backfield, Knowles figures to have a quicker turnaround time in Columbus than he did in Stillwater. Oklahoma State’s defense put up all those numbers this year without benefit of a single 4-star recruit.
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Of course, with more talent comes expectations of a quicker turnaround.
With this move, Ryan Day is making it clear that he isn’t messing around. It took all of 1 Big Ten loss in 3 seasons for him to make a dramatic change. The pressure is on Knowles to deliver from the get-go.
Ohio State’s offense will again be loaded with weapons next season with quarterback CJ Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba all returning. The Buckeyes don’t need to have the best defense in the country to reach the College Football Playoff next year — just one that can get off the field on third downs.
Details on Knowles’ contract have yet to be released, but it figures to be among the best for a coordinator in the country as Ohio State has undoubtedly flexed its financial muscle. Knowles was making $800,000 a year at Oklahoma State, and Gundy said just a couple weeks ago that the school was negotiating a long-term extension for Knowles.
4-2-5 scheme is here to stay
Ohio State notably switched from a 4-3 base defense to the 4-2-5 this season, and the results likely dampened any enthusiasm Buckeye fans had for the new scheme.
But Day has determined that the best course of action is to put the 4-2-5 in the hands of one of its most seasoned practitioners rather than go back to something that already wasn’t working the past few seasons.
At its best, the 4-2-5 does what Oklahoma State did this season — creates carnage in opposing backfields whether the opponent is running or passing. That element was missing when it mattered most for Ohio State this season.
In their 2 losses, the Buckeyes combined for 1 tackle for loss and no sacks. That lone TFL came against an Oregon offensive line that would go on to be twice manhandled by Utah.
Clearly, that’s not going to cut it. And if anyone is going to turn around Ohio State’s defense as currently constructed, Jim Knowles is the right choice.