A year after being the weak link of a Big Ten championship team, the Ohio State defense has looked national championship-quality through the first five weeks of the season.
Of course multiple changes have contributed to the rise of the Buckeyes, but is there any indicator that best represents the change in the unit from last season?
Jeff Hafley pointed to the physical play of cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette.
“When you get corners who trigger like Jeff and Damon do, then you better look out because that means you’ve got a pretty tough team,” Hafley said excitedly this week. “They are selling out to hit people, and it’s fun to watch.”
Okudah has 16 tackles, including one for loss, and three interceptions while Arnette has nine tackles and one pick. They’ve both been credited with three pass breakups.
Shaun Wade, who plays cornerback, safety and nickelback, has two tackles for loss among his nine stops, and he has broken up four passes.
Okudah picked off a pair of passes last week at Nebraska, and both he and Arnette had big hits near the line of scrimmage that let the Huskers know they would be in for a long night.
After holding the Cornhuskers to seven points, Ohio State ranks second in the country in yards allowed per game (223.8) and fourth in scoring defense (8.6 points per game) after ranking 72nd and 51st in those categories, respectively, last season.
In terms of advanced stats, the Buckeyes have the No. 3 defense in the country according to S&P+ after ranking 26th last season.
(Similar to OPS in baseball, S&P+ measures defenses both in terms of success from play to play and in preventing explosive gains.)
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And yet Hafley continues to insist Ohio State still has room to grow both from an execution and schematic standpoint.
“There is more stuff that we have practiced that we haven’t had to show yet, so maybe that will help us, but overall to us it always comes back to fundamentals and technique,” Hafley said. "Where’s your eyes? What’s your leverage? Where’s your hand placement? How am I tackling?
“So the little things are what I think make this defense special, and that’s what I think right now is making this team different. They are buying so much in to the fundamentals and the technique.”
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