You might look at the interrogatory headline and say to yourself, “Because the offense can’t protect the ball.”
As the headline implies, the Ohio State defense has, in fact, been forcing a larger-than-normal number of turnovers in this batch of fall practices.
And sure, not protecting the ball probably has something to do with it, but it has also been a focus of the defense since the winter.
Head coach Ryan Day has laid down the mandate. He wants more turnovers and his new defensive staff has gone about devising ways to make it a reality.
In fact, this mandate has been so successful in camp that when Buckeye defenders were asked why they were creating more turnovers, they cited several different reasons — which is exactly what Day was looking for.
“Shoot, we’re doing new techniques that our coaches brought from where they came from,” said junior defensive end Chase Young. “New techniques like punching the ball out. D line, we’re doing the same thing, matching the hand. You know, just the regular stuff, we’re just trying do it at a high level. And hopefully if we keep doing that, we can turn it into game reps on the field.”
Another area that Day has talked about this summer is the need for everybody to run to the football. Last year, there were times when that wasn’t happening, and that’s not going to work this year.
So often, coming up with a fumble or an interception is simply about being in the right place at the right time. However, that place usually has to be near the football, and the timing has to be perfect. Some might call it luck, but as the old saying goes, luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
Junior cornerback Jeff Okudah credits the turnovers on the defense’s relentless effort, as well as the renewed focus on punching at the football.
“I think everyone’s just getting to the football,” he said. “I mean, everyone’s making it a main point to get to the football every single play. And then I think when you hustle to the football, you get a lot of those loose balls, a lot of those tipped balls, and everyone’s always punching at the football. I know the offense has kind of made it one of their primary goals to hold onto the football, but we’re always punching at it and trying to get it out and it’s generating turnovers.”
Asked for his assessment of the defense this week, OSU running backs coach Tony Alford’s first two words were “fast” and “athletic.”
That speed and athleticism isn’t just in the back seven, however.
When junior safety Isaiah Pryor was asked why they are forcing more turnovers this camp, he first credited the defensive line, which is where all good pass defense starts.
“I feel like we’re really relying on our D line to help cause disruption,” he said. “And then playing good coverage on the back end allows us to go make plays. And keeping more vision on the quarterback off of his breaks, so then we can see and get more interceptions that way.”
Having the ability to watch the quarterback and not always having to turn and run with receivers and backs is significant, and Pryor was not the only player to mention it.
With the Buckeyes playing more zone this year, it allows the defenders to keep their eyes on the ball and then make a play on it. Even when they are in man, there are still things they are doing to stay aware. And even the switches and disguises on the coverages they are employing helps.
“I think it just comes from being able to have our eyes on the quarterback,” senior safety Jordan Fuller said. “So we’re in man a lot of the time, but we have some changes where we’re not. So just being able to read the quarterback I think gives us more chances to get our hands on footballs.”
The techniques that have been added have worked. Players see the results from punching and ripping at the ball. They see the positive outcomes from repeatedly running to the football. They are reaping the rewards of being able to react to the ball even before it leaves the quarterback’s hand.
There has also been some addition by subtraction.
“We are out there playing better football. We’re actually just out there playing,” said senior cornerback Damon Arnette. “We don’t have a lot of assignments to worry about. When you play defense, the defense should really be empty minded. Go out there and just try to knock somebody’s head off. And that’s really what we’re doing. We got our jobs, we got our focus. We know what we’re supposed to be doing, but it ain’t hard.”
The simpler nature of the defense has been talked about since the first time the defensive coaches met with the media in February.
With athletes like Ohio State has, sometimes you just have to turn them loose and let them play. And when you do, sometimes turnovers happen just as a byproduct of playing fast and free.
“I think the defense is simpler,” junior Bullet Brendon White said. “So we’re just having athletes out there. Just going out there and making plays. Not too much thinking. At the end of the day, they don’t want us to think too much. But at the same time, just play ball. Go out there and play ball.
“So we still have certain plays that we have to think here and there. But at the end of the day, I feel like the defensive game plan is lowered a little bit. It’s allowing us to go out there, make plays, and just play.”