COLUMBUS – With Ohio State having a 9-0 record, it might seem like everything has gone according to plan this season.
But it hasn’t. At least it hasn’t gone according to Urban Meyer’s Plan to Win that he has preached at Ohio State, Florida, Utah and Bowling Green.
No. 1 on that not exactly original list is play great defense. And until recently Ohio State certainly wasn’t doing that.
Early in the season, OSU’s defense was giving up big plays and big yardage almost every game. The low point defensively probably was at Indiana when the Buckeyes had to hang on for a 52-49 win after giving up 481 yards and 23 fourth-quarter points.
But in the last two games, the defense has showed signs of a turnaround.
In a 29-22 overtime win over Purdue, the Boilermakers got only 13 points while OSU’s defense was on the field. And last week Penn State didn’t get an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter and gained only 32 yards rushing.
“We're much better tackling and leveraging the ball,” Meyer said earlier this week. “We blitzed more (against Penn State). We had more pressures. We played more man coverage and blitzed more than we did all year. So that's telling us something that we need to do more of that.
“Fundamentally, I feel much better about where we’re at defensively. Our coaches have done a really good job taking 10 minutes, sometimes 15 minutes a day just working on fundamentals. You can see the improvements on the field.”
Ohio State’s defensive awakening has happened with converted fullback Zach Boren playing linebacker in place of the injured Etienne Sabino. In three starts, Boren has 20 tackles.
“I would say the first two games, there were times where I was just kind of running around not really knowing what I was doing all the time,” Boren said. “Against Penn State, I was finally a lot more confident in what I was doing and stuff started slowing down for me. Each week the growth is there a lot more than in the past weeks.”
Linebacker Ryan Shazier said, “To be honest, I’m not really that surprised about Zach playing linebacker. He’s a great overall player. He’s really put a lot of work into it. He’s got a lot of leadership, he’s a bruiser. It helps out a lot when it comes to the running game. He calmed things down a little bit and he is really big about keeping everything in place and knowing what they’re doing.”
There is still room for improvement, though. Ohio State ranks eighth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (24.1 points a game), ninth in overall defense (389.6 yards a game) and last in passing yards allowed (277.9 yards a game).
BY THE NUMBERS: Shazier, who wore No. 48 instead of his usual No. 10 to honor a deceased high school friend at Penn State, says he probably will return to his old number this week.
“Everybody says you caught a pick (pass interception) in it, you haven’t caught a pick all year,” Shazier said. “We (he and Meyer) haven’t had a conversation about it. He probably would let me switch but I’ll probably go back to 10.”
MEYER HIGH ON MEWHORT: Left tackle Jack Mewhort “is playing as well as any offensive lineman in the Big Ten right now,” Meyer said on his weekly radio show Thursday.
BENNETT AND INJURY: The groin injury defensive lineman suffered during preseason practice has kept him from reaching his full potential, Meyer said on the radio.
“What he showed in spring practice was far superior to what he has done this year,” Meyer said. “That second or third week of training camp (when he was injured) sat him out for six or seven weeks and we haven’t gotten the same out of him.”
KLEIN INJURY: Linebacker Storm Klein has been battling a herniated disk in his neck and is unable to practice, Meyer said.