Jim Knowles takes over the Ohio State defense in 2022 in an attempt to fix the most glaring problem with the Buckeyes’ football team.
Normally, one of the best defenses in college football wouldn’t come out of the Big 12. But Knowles’ defense at Oklahoma State nearly earned a conference championship for the Cowboys.
In 2021, Oklahoma State’s defense was fifth in the country in yards per game, fourth in third down and fourth down defense, and ninth in scoring defense.
They were also first in tackles for a loss and sacks. For reference, Ohio State was 28th in sacks and 37th in tackles for a loss. Despite the number of top recruits on the defensive line at Ohio State, Oklahoma State is the team that has a player with double-digit sacks. Haskell Garrett led Ohio State in sacks, and he would be fourth if he played for the Cowboys.
Ohio State brought in Knowles to plug the leaks on defense. The Buckeyes’ defense gave them fits whenever they faced a team that could run the ball effectively. That led to some losses that kept them out of the College Football Playoff.
Knowles brings Ohio State a new look on defense after helping the Cowboys earn their fourth-best win percentage in school history.
What Does Jim Knowles Bring to Ohio State?
Knowles got the best out of his players, despite the fact that they didn’t get many tops recruits. In the last five years, Oklahoma State never landed a recruiting class higher than 31st in the nation. The best recruiting class in that span was the 2021 class, so they were all freshmen this year.
Ohio State is used to having a top-five recruiting class in the country, while Oklahoma State barely gets top-five recruiting classes in their conference. Yet, the Cowboys outperformed the Buckeyes in nearly every metric.
One of the major complaints about Ohio State’s defense is that they didn’t play up to their potential. Many times, it looked like Ohio State was dominated physically far too often. That’s not something you should see with the top athletes in the country.
Oklahoma State’s Defense
One way Knowles can help the Ohio State defensive line is by varying the looks upfront. He often goes with three-down linemen and a stand-up linebacker on the edge.
The Cowboys would usually be the front four, but would occasionally rush three, and sometimes send five or more. To opposing quarterbacks, Knowles could be sending any number of rushers on any given play.
Another staple of the Knowles defense is a two-safety set in deep coverage.
Ohio State typically plays with a single-high safety, with the second “cover” safety playing more like a slot cornerback. Theoretically, this helps support the run game, but it evidently didn’t help Ohio State stop opposing running backs.
When Matt Barnes took over the defense mid-season, he threw in a few more double-safety looks, but Ohio State still leaned on their typical formations.
Oklahoma State usually had two safeties back and had their corners fall back as well. The Cowboys played in Cover 3 or Cover 4 a lot, resulting in a lot of defenders on the back end.
With this potential change in the scheme on the horizon, it makes sense that Knowles’ first recruit to Ohio State is safety Tanner McCalister. The veteran defender played both free and strong safety at Oklahoma State under Knowles.
The Buckeyes’ defense was a major hindrance in 2021. Under Ryan Day, the College Football Playoff is now the expectation. The defense let the postseason slip through their fingers. Day brought in one of the best defensive coordinators in college football to help.
With the Buckeyes’ top three recruits in the 2022 class coming in on defense, that side of the ball is too important to ignore.