The Ohio State secondary could be accused of imitating Roberto Duran, the boxer known for his “Hands of Stone.”
The Buckeyes went into their game against Illinois on Saturday leading the Big Ten with 12 interceptions, but their DBs haven’t come close to capitalizing on their opportunities.
Safety Christian Bryant continued a position-wide pattern of not making opponents pay for errant passes when he muffed a sure pick in the second quarter.
But fifth-year senior cornerback Travis Howard ended a personal interception drought with a second-quarter theft in a 52-22 win to give him four this season. He had two in the opener against Miami and then another in the second game against Central Florida.
“I always say interceptions come when they come. But we’ve dropped some — probably had more drops than any place I’ve been around,” OSU co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. “We need to get better and we’ll use the bye week to work on that.”
Howard said opponents have been avoiding him after his early interception spree. The team’s top corner, sophomore Bradley Roby, leads the nation in pass break-ups.
“I started off real fast, then I fell off because a lot of teams weren’t throwing passes my way,” Howard said. “I got a chance today to make a play on the ball, and the D-line did a great job rushing the quarterback and making him get rid of it.”
Howard was more excited about the overall play of the defense. The Buckeyes held Illinois to 170 yards. One of the Illini’s TDs was a fourth-quarter, 77-yard fumble return against the reserves.
The Buckeyes have been strong defensively in three consecutive games.
“We just wanted to show teams we can play Silver Bullet football. I felt the few games after Michigan State (on Sept. 29), we kind of backed off and fell apart,” Howard said. “Our coaches told us that’s not Silver Bullet football. They wanted us to come out and showcase what we could do, and I felt we did that.”
He scores: Junior receiver Philly Brown went into the game by far the team leader in catches with 44, but he had just one touchdown of the year.
He doubled his total against the Illinois, though, zigzagging for a 37-yard score after hauling in a Braxton Miller pass.
“If you look back at the film, I get tackled on the goal line too many times,” he said. “Actually, early in the game, I got tackled on the goal line again. Braxton made a perfect pass. I just had to make one person miss.”
The Buckeyes are ready for their bye week — they’re the only 10-0 team in the nation because other unbeaten squads have had a week off — and they believe they’ll have linebacker Etienne Sabino (fractured leg) for the final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan.
“We’re going to take this bye week, and people who’ve got injuries are going to get back this week,” Brown said. “I know we’ve got a big game coming up with Wisconsin. Obviously, we really don’t like them very much. We’re going to grind this week and grind next week and get ready for Wisconsin.”
Battle of the trenches: OSU coach Urban Meyer lauded his offensive line for helping to crank out 567 total yards, just 11 off the season high set against Indiana.
“Just from where they’ve come from, it’s almost overwhelming if you think where they were the first week of spring practice to where they are now,” he said.
Special teams breakdown: OSU’s kick coverage unit still causes exhilaration — usually for both sides each game. The Buckeyes, who gave up a 100-yard return to Purdue two weeks ago, were gashed for a 45-yarder by the Illini’s Terry Hawthorne and gave up two more long ones of 30 and 29 yards to the speedy sophomore.
The Buckeyes also once stopped Hawthorne after a 13-yard gain. They began the game second in the Big Ten in covering kicks, allowing 19.8 yards per return.
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