Saturday, September 11, 2010
Ohio State building takeaway tradition
By Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- DeVier Posey has been spoiled by Ohio State's defense, and he knows it.
When Posey, a junior wide receiver for the Buckeyes, watches the Silver Bullets do their thing from the sideline, he goes through the same thought process.
"You're just waiting," Posey said. "If we don't get a three-and-out, well, when's the turnover coming? If we get don't get a sack, somebody's going to pick the ball up or we're going to get an interception.
"When those things don't happen, I'm almost surprised."
The Ohio State defense upended Miami on Saturday, forcing four interceptions.
It's safe to say Posey wasn't surprised throughout Saturday's game against Miami.
Ohio State's defense continued its opportunistic play with four interceptions against Jacory Harris, who continued a troubling trend from 2009 (17 INTs). The takeaway parade helped No. 2 Ohio State to a 36-24 victory over the 12th-ranked Hurricanes, keeping the march to the national title game very much alive.
The four-pack of picks led to 20 Ohio State points, as the Buckeyes improved to plus-7 in turnover margin for the season, a number that might lead the nation after Week 2.
"The coaches do a good job of telling us that when the ball is in the air," linebacker Brian Rolle said, "it's just as much ours as it is theirs."
This isn't exactly a new formula for Ohio State. The Buckeyes tied for third nationally in takeways with 35 last year, as fumble recoveries and interceptions became the hallmarks for a unit that boasted only one first-team All-Big Ten performer (safety Kurt Coleman). Twelve different players recorded interceptions in 2009, and five had two or more picks.
This year's defense boasts more individual standouts, but it has continued to force turnovers at a staggering pace.
The Silver Bullets will give -- Miami racked up 352 yards Saturday -- but more often than not, they'll take it away.
"We always emphasize it," defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "I don't know if we always do it, but we're doing it right now.
"We're just in the right spots, and you never know what happens."
Like a 285-pound man running 80 yards down the field.
That was Heyward early in the third quarter, after recording the most important Buckeye takeaway of the game. Ohio State led 26-17, but Miami stormed out of the halftime locker room and marched inside the 10-yard line.
On third-and-goal from the 9, Ohio State called a zone blitz, Heyward sat back in coverage and stepped in front of a Miami player for his first career interception.
"Our conditioning test isn't even as hard as that," said Heyward, who cramped up on the next defensive series. "I have greater respect for those running backs and wide receivers now."
Linebacker Brian Rolle didn't see the interception, but when he heard the home crowd yell, he knew it had to be Heyward.
"I tried to lead block for him," a smiling Rolle said. "His ball skills ain't too good. I tried to point him to the sideline."
Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa looked a little more polished after recording two interceptions. Ohio State was in Cover 3 on both plays, and Chekwa tried to jump the out routes Miami had been using.
After watching film of Harris from last season throughout the week, Chekwa and his fellow defenders knew there would be opportunities for takeaways.
"What we saw from last year, he made some bad decisions sometimes when he got pressured," Chekwa said. "When he got pressure on him, he was just going to throw it up sometimes. We made sure we got pressure on him and got an opportunity to make a pick."
Ohio State is annually one of the nation's stingiest defenses, but the takeaway trend is a fairly recent phenomenon. The Buckeyes had only 12 takeaways in 2005 (114th nationally) and 19 in 2007 (93rd nationally).
They increased the total to 29 in 2008 (20th nationally), but last year's unit took things to another level, and the trend is continuing.
"That's always an emphasis," defensive tackle John Simon said. "It's just huge to [force] a turnover. It's a big momentum shifter, and then our offense can keep the momentum."
For Harris and the Hurricanes, any momentum gained evaporated with each giveaway.
"I deserve to take the blame for the loss," Harris said. "I'm a leader on our team. I take full ownership for whatever happens. ... Without the turnovers, I think it would be totally different."
For Ohio State, it has been more of the same.
Posey hopes the turnover train keeps on moving.
"When you go against them in practice, you don't realize how good they are," he said of the defense. "I feel like I've been spoiled."