COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s defensive improvement this season has happened because of many different things, but three main reasons stand out for OSU co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.
Not allowing big plays, tackling well and the players buying into what the coaches want them to do are at the top of Hafley’s list.
Hafley is one of four new defensive coaches at Ohio State this season. One of the main knocks on last year’s defense and its coaches was giving up too many big plays. The Buckeyes allowed 38 plays of 30 yards or more last season.
“If you make a team drive the length of the field and earn every single yard you always have a chance to keep them out of the end zone. If you eliminate the explosives (big plays) and tackle I think you have a pretty good chance to win at any level,” Hafley said on Tuesday.
“We’ve gotten the guys to buy in. The guys bought what we were teaching and what they had to do. I’d put the biggest percentage on the players buying in. But they also developed a confidence in themselves. You have to play this game confidently,” he said.
Hamler’s status: There have been no indications Penn State’s top receiver, K.J. Hamler, will miss Saturday’s game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 8 Penn State but there is still some uncertainty about his status because he sat out the last three quarters of the Nittany Lions’ win over Indiana last Saturday.
Hamler left last week’s game after landing on his head during a kick return in the second quarter.
Hamler (46 catches, 791 yards, 8 touchdowns) is a constant threat defenses must deal with on every play, a fact Ohio State knows all too well after he turned a short pass into a 93-yard touchdown play during OSU’s 27-26 win at Penn State last season.
Penn State coach James Franklin said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that he is hopeful Hamler will be on the field against Ohio State.
“Like I said last week after the game, we’re hopeful. Obviously we won’t know. There’s medical policies and procedures that we go through. We have to go through a series of steps and things like that,” Franklin said.
“But we were hopeful after the game. I still remain hopeful. Those decisions I don’t make. I won’t make them now and I never have since I’ve been at Penn State. The medical professionals will make those decisions,” he said.
Hill connects with quarterbacks: Wide receiver K.J. Hill has 182 catches in his career, which is nine short of David Boston’s OSU record of 191.
One of the reasons Hill has been successful, according to Ohio State coach Ryan Day is that he communicates well with quarterbacks, sometimes without even saying a word.
“I think K.J. just has a tremendous way of just playing the game. He’s got great body language for a quarterback. Certain receivers just know how to get open and they know how to talk to the quarterback with their body language,” Day said.
“He understands space, he knows how to get open, he’s crafty, he’s been around, he’s clutch.
“He’s not 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash), he’s not 6-5 (height). He just has a way. I think Bill Belichick says the best thing about a receiver is he gets open and he catches the ball, and that’s what KJ does.”
Experimenting with Stover: Freshman Cade Stover, who was recruited as a linebacker, played defensive end in Ohio State’s 56-21 win over Rutgers last Saturday.
“We’ve been experimenting with him. We’ve been doing that in practice, we’ve been doing that a little with the scout team. We’re trying to figure out what he can do, where he’s best suited,” Hafley said.
“We’re going to see where the best spot is for him. He’s got a lot of versatility, he’s strong, he can run. So we’re just trying to find the best place for him right now.”
Series notes: Since Penn State began playing in the Big Ten in 1993, Ohio State has won 18 of the 26 games it has played against the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State is 11-2 at home against Penn State.
Penn State’s offense was unstoppable in a 63-14 win over the Buckeyes in 1994 but only one of its other wins against OSU since 1993 has been by more than seven points.
Ohio State beat Penn State 63-14 in 2013 for its biggest margin of victory in the series. Only four of the Buckeyes’ other 17 wins against the Nittany Lions have been by fewer than 11 points and eight of them have been by 20 points or more.
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