It won’t be the first trip to Bloomington for Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner on Saturday.

Werner, an Indianapolis native, grew up attending Indiana games. His family had season tickets.

“It'll mean something to me," Werner said of his return, “from a different perspective, obviously."

 

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Previous games in his home state have not been festive. When the Buckeyes opened their season at Indiana in 2017, Werner, then a freshman, did not play. As they visited Purdue last October, Werner got in, but their defense was torched, allowing 49 points in their only loss of the season.

This trip might go better.

Werner has been a key figure for the defense, which has made strides since last season and is coming off a shutout of Cincinnati. He has been a steady presence on the field through two games as the weak-side linebacker and has nine tackles, tied for fourth-most on the team.

Most players, including Werner, said they have enjoyed playing in the revamped defense, developed by new co-coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley.

“My ability to have fun kind of generates from other people's ability to have fun on the defense,” Werner said. “When you see somebody making plans or see somebody really use their effort, their capability of running the field, that fires you up.”

The fast start has been particularly encouraging for Werner and other linebackers, whose struggles were seen by observers last season as one of the more significant issues for the defense, which allowed an OSU-record 25.5 points per game.

 

 

 

Werner said the biggest plus has been limiting big plays. The Buckeyes have allowed seven plays of 20 or more yards this season, an average of one fewer per game.

“I think everybody running to the football, no big plays allowed, makes me love this defense,” Werner said. “Last year, it was kind of frustrating. We'd get a third-and-5, we get ready to get off the field and here’s a 25-yard gain.”

 

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman