Knowles, Buckeyes ‘pressing for’ top-5 defense

Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles speaks with media after Ohio State’s fifth preseason practice Tuesday. Credit: Gabe Burggraf | Assistant LTV Sports Producer

New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is often referred to as a mad Scientist” by those around the Ohio State football program.

Arriving in January, Knowles quickly impacted the Buckeyes defense, which ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten Conference and college football overall last season. Head Coach Ryan Day placed lofty expectations for Ohio State ahead of the 2022 season during Big Ten Media Days in July, saying he wants a turnaround to a “top-10 defense” this fall.

When Knowles said he heard about the standard Day set, he hopes to push the target further.

“What goes through my mind is that, you know, I wish he would’ve said top five. I mean, because that’s what we expect,” Knowles said. “We talk about having a silver bullet defense to mirror the traditions that have been around here. I tell the guys that means top five, and that’s what we’re pressing for.”

Day said July 27 that with the new coaches and scheme brought by Knowles and other additions, such as secondary and cornerbacks Coach Tim Walton and safeties Coach Perry Eliano, the Buckeyes have been “exciting to watch” defensively.

“There’s just an aggressiveness about them. But in terms of expectations, I mean, yeah, we expect a top-10 defense. That’s what we want,” Day said. “When we’ve played our best football, it’s because we’ve played really good defense, and we’ve been balanced and played complimentary football.”

Ohio State’s total defense ranked No. 9 in the Big Ten last season, allowing an average of 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game. The Buckeyes also tied both for No. 59 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and No. 88 in red zone defense, surrendering scores to opponents 85.7 percent of the time they were pinned inside their own 20-yard line.

Graduate linebacker Teradja Mitchell, who was among the Buckeyes’ six captains last season, echoed Knowles’ aspirations — and said they have their sights on better.

“My standard, and the way we work, I feel like we are aiming for No. 1. That’s the goal,” Mitchell said. “We’re not looking at the results, but the way we work and how hard we work. If you’re going to work hard, you might as well go for the top spot.”

Day said he agrees that he’s seen similarities to Ohio State’s defense in 2019 when the Buckeyes returned to the College Football Playoff after not qualifying and earning a Rose Bowl win over No. 9 Washington the year prior — something they could mirror with similar play in 2022.

Before joining the Buckeyes, Knowles coordinated the defense at Oklahoma State for four seasons. The Cowboys finished with college football’s No. 3 total defense last season, holding opponents to just over 278 yards per game.

Now a Buckeye, Knowles doesn’t just want to carry over his success — he expects it.

“Really, nothing goes through my mind other than it’s great to be at Ohio State,” Knowles said. “The expectations are high, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

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