Pete Werner is bullish on the speed of the Ohio State defense.
“I think our defense can compete with any team in the country as far as speed,” the sophomore linebacker said. “As far as if we have our eyes on the right keys, I think we’ll be fine on anything.”
But then defensive coordinator Greg Schiano offered a cautionary statement about the speedy TCU skill players the Buckeyes will face Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
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“They are fast,” Schiano said. “It's a very fast football team.”
Let the chase begin.
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 15 TCU is being sold as an early chance for each team to make a statement about its worthiness for the College Football Playoff. The matchups on the field, though, are the Buckeyes’ immediate concern.
TCU receiver KaVontae Turpin, also a dangerous kick returner, and fellow wideout Jalen Reagor are as fast a tandem as the Buckeyes will face all season. The Horned Frogs also sport speedy running backs led by Darius Anderson and a dual-threat quarterback in Shawn Robinson who was their leading rusher the first two games.
“A lot of guys are good at making decisions but are just OK runners. He’s as good as any running back,” Schiano said of Robinson. “He is strong, he’s big — he’s close to 230 pounds. Not only do we have to decipher (the option) correctly, we have to make a tackle on a big man. So it’s going to be a challenge.
“He is very strong-armed as well. He can get the ball anywhere on the field … If anybody on the back end (in coverage) gets a little bit lazy and doesn’t keep getting depth, he has an arm where he can throw it on the run 50, 60 yards with the flick of a wrist.”
Those are the threats the Horned Frogs use to stretch the intermediate zones of a defense.
“It does make it a little harder, especially for the linebacker positions, trying to spread the linebackers out (in the passing game) and then play the run as well,” Werner said. “But then again, just reading your keys will take you all to the ball. … We’ll be fine.”
Discipline is the key for each defender, Schiano said. A few lapses cost the Buckeyes on three big touchdown plays — two of them long runs — in a 77-31 win over Oregon State in the opener. On those plays, Ohio State did not look like one of the faster defenses in the country. But Werner said it was more a case of some players trying to compensate for others and being caught out of position.
Turpin, 5 feet 9 and 157 pounds, made the SMU defense look like that a few times last week in TCU’s 42-12 win. Reagor has the same capability against those caught flat-footed.
“You’ve just got to take the right angles to the ball,” Werner said. “You’ve got to be in the places you know they’re going to end up. And if they’re going to spread the field out, you’ve got to spread it with them and play just as fast as they do.”