OSU defense works to eliminate big plays

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State defensive lineman Robert Landers tackles Oregon State running back Artavis Pierce during Saturday's game. Landers said the Buckeyes studied video of the game "vigorously" to correct mistakes that led to big plays. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

On 56 of Oregon State’s 63 offensive snaps Saturday, Ohio State’s defense dominated, yielding only 72 yards.

But those other seven plays — yeesh.

Three went for touchdowns of 49, 78 and 80 yards. Add in four other plays of 25, 26, 31 and 31 yards, and it’s safe to say that Buckeyes coaches had plenty to dissect this week.

“We’ve studied them pretty vigorously,” defensive tackle Robert Landers said Wednesday. “Those were little mistakes that we made that were very uncommon for our defense. We have to go back to the drawing board after every game and fix and tweak the little things and make sure we are solidified with our fundamentals.”

Ohio State plays Rutgers on Saturday, and the Buckeyes haven’t allowed a point in their last two games against the Scarlet Knights. If that streak is to continue, the Buckeyes can’t allow those kind of breakdowns.

Ohio State was particularly susceptible to misdirection plays and screen passes as Oregon State used the Buckeyes’ aggressiveness against them.

“We have to be smarter,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “We can’t just fly up the field. We’ve got to be attentive to the fact people can screen on us because we’re so fast.”

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It was the first start for many of the Buckeyes, who were missing some key players. Middle linebacker Tuf Borland played only 10 snaps as he eases back from an Achilles injury. Safety Jordan Fuller was held out to rest a hamstring injury, and both Jahsen Wint and Isaiah Pryor were victimized at times.

“The first game is always a feel-out game,” Jones said. “We can always develop from the first game. We had a lot of new starters. That plays a huge role when you don’t have experience. Experience is everything.”

Rutgers will have to deal with inexperience at the most important position Saturday. True freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski will make his second start. He threw three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in the Scarlet Knights’ 35-7 victory over Texas State.

With Jones, Nick Bosa and Chase Young leading the way, Buckeyes pass-rushers should be smelling blood.

“Our eyes light up regardless of whether he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior,” Jones said. “He’s a quarterback. We’re going to get after him.”

The key is to do so with discipline, and the same goes in the run game, where the Buckeyes too often against Oregon State lost leverage or were in the wrong gaps.

“You always hear people say that between week one and week two is when you make your most improvement,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said, “and when you're a young unit, that even multiplies.”

Schiano was hardly despondent about the Buckeyes’ performance in the opener, despite giving up 31 points. He noted that the defense scored a touchdown on a Bosa fumble recovery off a strip-sack by sophomore linebacker Pete Werner. Schiano was pleased that the Buckeyes didn’t allow a touchdown after two turnovers gave Oregon State the ball deep in Ohio State territory.

But those bad plays count, too, and the Buckeyes are intent on limiting them.

“I feel after this first game we realize where we’re at and what we can do,” defensive end Jonathon Cooper said. “It’s looking at those mistakes and learning from them.”


Next game

Rutgers at Ohio State

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)