LOS ANGELES (WCMH) — Members of Ohio State’s defense took questions from the media Tuesday ahead of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl game against Utah this Saturday at 5:00 p.m.
The Buckeyes last defensive performance was one to forget after Michigan bullied OSU to the tune of 297 yards rushing and 7.2 yards per rush.
“Yeah it definitely left a bad taste in our mouth, but we put that game behind us,” sophomore defensive back Ronnie Hickman said. “Our main focus is on Utah and trying to send the seniors out the right way.”
Utah’s rushing attack is just as formidable as Michigan. The Utes average 5.61 yards per rush (2nd best in the nation) and 216.1 yards per game (13th best in the country).
“The thing that jumps off the table right away is their physicality,” defensive play-caller and safeties coach Matt Barnes said. “They try to run the ball downhill, they’re big up front and they do a really good job.”
Michigan’s physicality jumped off the table as well but the Buckeyes were helpless in stopping that train. It won’t be any easier for OSU, which will play without All American defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
“I’m proud of Haskell. He gave us everything he had and you just got to have that next man up mentality,” senior defensive end Tyreke Smith said.
Utah’s rushing attack is led by Tavion Thomas who has more than 1,000 yards this season on 186 carries and it’s complimented by T.J. Pledger who has 671 rush yards on nearly 100 attempts. Utah’s quarterback, Cameron Rising, can also be a threat to run with more than 400 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns this season.
“They want to stretch the ball around the edge, they want to try to seal you off,” Smith said. “Those [running] backs, you got to make them feel you. You got to put bodies on them.”
While the run game is superb, the passing attacks is middling with the Utes averaging 212.5 passing yards per game (87th in the country).
Barnes said the Utes have an NFL-style offense, utilizing multiple tight end personnel sets while incorporating a healthy dose of pre-snap shifts and motions.
“They’re all more athletic than any tight end should be. I think they’ve done a really good job whether it’s recruiting or developing but they’re kind of a basketball team . . . they are very, very talented, so it’s a matchup issue.”
Barnes said the coaching staff met individually with new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles before their trip to California. Barnes did not share whether he’ll be back next year or what his role will be if he decides to stay in Columbus after taking over play-calling duties from current defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs.