Has Ohio State football’s defense looked Championship caliber through five games?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jim Knowles’ expectations for Ohio State football’s defense surpassed even that of head Coach Ryan Day coming into the season, and five games in, things have been decent.

The Buckeyes rank 14th nationally in yards per play (4.52), 10th in yards per game (263.8) and tied for 14th in points per game (14.8). Among Power Five teams, those rankings go up to ninth, seventh and 12th. But Knowles has decided to fixate on one specific ranking that he isn’t all too happy about.

“I was actually disappointed that I just looked that we were 11th in third-down (conversions),” Knowles said. “We certainly have higher aspirations than that. We’re doing well, but it is a critical part of our system. Our guys are trained from the beginning on how to hold the line and know where that down is.

“To me, that’s the game of defense: getting the ball back to the offense. Particularly when you have an offense as successful as ours, you want to get the ball back to them as quickly as you can.”

Teams are Converting on just 27.14% of their third down attempts against Ohio State. That’s a significant improvement from last season’s 42.08% conversion rate or even the 37.14% rate in 2020. It’s even better than the 2019 defense, which held teams to just 29.13%.

That 2019 team is the only other time since 2009 that the Buckeyes have held teams under a 30% percent conversion rate, and it was considered a top-five unit nationally. That’s what Knowles is striving for. They like how things have started. But in his mind, it’s still not good enough.

“I’m pleased,” Knowles said. “We have seen some success, but defense is such a right now proposition. Failure is not an option, so it’s just drive, drive, push, push to be better. Never really look back on any of that until the end of the season when you look back on things.”

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