COLUMBUS — This entire offseason, Ohio State’s coaching staff and players talked about the changes on the defensive side of the ball. The new defensive staff highlighted the need to get their guys playing fast and simple.
But some of the biggest questions coming into Ohio State’s home opener were about what the new defense would look like and how effective it would be.
Saturday was not only the first test for the new Buckeye defense, but it was also their first chance of showcasing all of the changes on the defensive side of the ball.
From kickoff, it was evident that Ohio State’s defense came out with something to prove.
At halftime, FAU had negative 14 yards of total offense. Owls quarterback Chris Robison completed 8 of 12 pass attempts for just 10 yards in the first half.
For head coach Ryan Day, his defense did exactly what he wanted them to do.
“What I was looking for was guys running to the ball and hitting. I felt that,” Day said, “I was watching Pete Werner and Malik Harrison and Jeff Okudah come into the ball and you could feel the violence on the field. That’s what we want. We want that toughness. And I felt that. I felt those guys flying around. And it was, to me it was intimidating. It was downhill, it was what we want.”
Last year, the defense was a weak point for the Buckeyes. They were ranked 71st in the FBS in total defense, giving up an average of 403.4 yards per game. Ohio State gave up big plays in nearly every game last season. In total, the Buckeyes gave up seven plays that were over 70 yards.
In the home opener last season against Oregon State, the Buckeyes gave up an 80-yard touchdown run. The largest play Ohio State gave up against Florida Atlantic was a 38-yard reception.
On Saturday while the game was still in doubt, there were hardly any weak points in Ohio State’s defense. The defensive line was getting to the quarterback, there were multiple linebackers making tackles, and the secondary was staying on the ball.
“They didn’t do a whole lot of different things. They basically played cover-three and some cover-one. Very rarely did they pressure, I’m sure they looked at it and said they didn’t need to and they gave you problems,” Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin said after the game.
“That’s a great front, especially the defensive end. They were really fast in the perimeter plays. You know when you play guys like this you’re going to struggle inside trying to get the ball outside and we were having negative play after negative play in the first half because those guys can really run. They looked fresh, they looked fast and to me they looked a lot better than they did a year ago on defense.”
Junior defensive end Chase Young, senior linebacker Malik Harrison, senior defensive end Jashon Cornell, and senior defense tackle Robert Landers all recorded sacks.
Senior safety Jordan Fuller led the Buckeyes with seven tackles. Cornell set a career high with two tackles-for-loss and Harrison tied his career-best with two tackles-for-loss.
Sophomore safety Josh Proctor’s snagged his first career interception in the fourth quarter of the game.
Although the Owls finished with 228 yards of total offense, the majority of those yards were picked up late in the second half of the game. The Buckeyes were able to successfully stop the FAU run game, leaving the Owls with just 22 rushing yards.
“Anytime you score 45 points or you hold the team to negative rushing yards, I’m not sure how long that was, but it was maybe the end of the third quarter, it was negative rushing yards into the third quarter,” Day said. “That’s something to be proud of.”