Pete Germano knows his defensive ends can be better.
He specifically coaches the ends for Ohio; Tremayne Scott coaches the tackles. But the techniques for disrupting the opponents passing attack have a stark contrast.
Ends are speed-rush specialists. In the current days of run-pass options as a dominating offensive game plan, ends have more jobs than ever before. They must account for the quarterback run, the running back and the pass.
On obvious passing situations, ends can “pin their ears back” and rush the quarterback — normally. It doesn’t help that each of the quarterbacks Ohio has faced this season have been dual-threat guys that can make plays on the ground.
“In the back of our head, we’re just thinking if we rush a little bit too high or we get pushed a little bit past the quarterback, he has the potential to scramble,” defensive end Will Evans said.
Evans is in his first season as a starter at defensive end. Germano, who’s in his second season with the Bobcats, was brought in from Fresno State after the 2016 season, when Jesse Williams departed to Kansas.
When he came on board, Germano was gifted an experienced defensive line.
But this season, the unit is young. He’s confident production will come sooner rather than later.
“We have to learn from our mistakes and get better,” Germano said. “We are getting better, and that’s a good sign.”
Ohio has four sacks this season. The stat comes from a small sample size of three games, but it still isn’t what Germano wants from his ends.
Evans is aware of the stats — they don’t lie, after all. Last season, Ohio’s leader in sacks, Quentin Poling, had just five for the year. Still, the Bobcats are two seasons removed from Tarell Basham, who recorded 11.5 sacks in 2016 and set the programs all-time sack record.
Germano said good edge rushers win one-on-one battles with offensive lineman. Ohio’s success will come from winning those. And while all the attention is on the passing defense, Ohio’s defensive issues have deeper roots than just the pass rush.
In the first three weeks of the season, Ohio is 127th nationally out of 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in pass yards allowed per game. While the Bobcats have only played three games this season, much of the country has played four — some teams have even played five.
While signs point to the Bobcats’ defense improving, the problems are still glaring.
Instead, teams have come out throwing against Ohio and have been successful.
Virginia ran quick out routes and screens against the Bobcats that resulted in long runs after the catch. Ohio eliminated those, but Cincinnati attacked Ohio with play action passes. No matter how balls are caught, the numbers aren’t great for the secondary. But they’re making adjustments on the fly.
“We’re able to make adjustments and we’re competent as a defense,” Nelson said before the Cincinnati game. “We’re able to make adjustments from the sideline and bring them out to the field and execute.”
Adjusting to one thing results in offensive adjustments. That’s when a defense has to be solid.
Some of the yards have been allowed from trick plays, such as in the Howard game. Some simply have came from missed tackles, which were a problem in the Virginia game.
For now, Ohio’s left to continue to improve its pass defense. One way to do that is with a disruptive pass rush. Ohio’s front seven hasn’t pressured the quarterback at the rate it wants — and expects to.
The four sacks so far, again, isn’t good enough. That’s just 1.33 sacks per game, which is 102nd nationally.
UMass could provide an ample opportunity for the Ohio pass rush. The Minutemen are giving up 2.20 sacks per game so far this season, 81st in the country.
If Evans and the Bobcats can start getting to the quarterback more, the ball will only begin to roll.
For now, they’ll keep working with Germano.
“We’re a four-man front. We rush four guys,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get more pressure.”