Luke Fickell gets defensive over defense

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last goal on the list was the most critical.

The plan obviously wasn’t to give up more than 600 yards of offense.

Ideally, the defense wouldn’t have allowed 41 points.

Of course, the best-case scenario probably didn’t call for needing to snuff a 2-point conversion in the final minute to escape either.

But if Ohio State almost certainly came up well short of the target statistically, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell still had one final item on his checklist he measured with a simple pass or fail grade in Saturday’s wild, shootout win over rival Michigan. And since the No. 2 Buckeyes are still undefeated, that evaluation was pretty easy for him to make.

“What do you mean what went wrong?” Fickell said. “Did we win? Did we win? Did we win? I’ve been up there quite a few times in my 18-year career here and not come away with a win.

“There are a lot of things we have to correct, but every single week we have objectives, and the last objective last week was to win. We came away with a win, we made a play when we had to make a play.”

The Buckeyes didn’t make many on that side of the ball before an interception by Tyvis Powell sealed the win over the Wolverines. Even with a positive outcome, there’s no way they can hide from that fact.

Fickell acknowledged some communication breakdowns, gave credit to Michigan for an aggressive game plan that caught Ohio State off guard and stressed the importance of improved “awareness” as his team prepares for Saturday’s Big Ten title game in Indianapolis against No. 10 Michigan State.

But his boss took it one step further, as coach Urban Meyer made it clear he didn’t think another passing grade would be likely without a much more stout defensive effort.

“We won't win the game,” Meyer said. “We won't win that game this time. That's just very simple. We have to play much better.

“Pass defense [breakdowns] surfaced again and lack of contact on the quarterback. We just had some guys running open. It was a combination [of problems]. If you could say it was one thing, then I would say it was one thing. But I trust that we'll get it fixed, and I trust that these guys will be locked and loaded and have a good week of preparation.”

Perhaps the most pressing correction to be made will be ensuring the Buckeyes are communicating the way they have largely throughout the season in allowing just more than 20 points per game. It was an issue they at least identified before the final defensive snap against the Wolverines to get on the same page in time to get a season-saving stop near the goal line.

The Buckeyes might also have been a little overzealous and trying to do too much individually, which hurt them in the screen game as huge holes opened and the Wolverines gashed them for long gains with no tacklers in sight. But that, too, is a lesson they preferred to learn from a win.

“To be honest, I feel execution and effort were there, but it was a lack of communication that we messed up on,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “I feel like we did a good job executing the things that we needed to execute, and we had the effort out there on the field. They just threw a bunch of curveballs at us and we have to try to change up on them during the game.

“We just have to do what we have to do to get this ‘W,’ and that means play great defense.”

The Buckeyes didn’t do it over the weekend but got a victory anyway, which Fickell was quick to point out. But crossing off that final objective against Michigan State might be a lot tougher to do without meeting a few other goals first this time.