Ohio State football: So far, so good for revamped defense

COLUMBUS -- The reviews are in. The new Ohio State defense was a hit in its debut.

“Kind of indescribable, man,” junior safety Ronnie Hickman said when asked how it felt to hold Notre Dame to 10 points in the season opener. “The first time for us to get out there and just finally go against someone else not in the same uniform as us was just really fun. I’m just glad to see our guys go out there and execute our plan.”

Unlike a Broadway play, though, the Buckeyes will not be able to do the same thing every week and expect the same results.

Notre Dame was just one of the different challenges they will see during a fall run they hope leads to a grand finale not far from Hollywood at SoFi Stadium in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Irvine, Calif.

“You know we enjoy every one we get, (and) especially in the ‘Shoe in week one was definitely a great feeling,” Hickman said. “But now it’s on Arkansas State.”

Notre Dame finished with 253 total yards — just 199 after a 54-yard opening play on which the Buckeyes blitzed and safety Josh Proctor missed a tackle — but Hickman said the Buckeyes have plenty to work on.

“Despite what it may look like on Saturday there was a lot of things that we’ve still got to get corrected so we come in the facility each day trying to get better on those things,” Hickman said. “Try to have a better Tuesday than last week or a better Wednesday, than last Wednesday.”

Hickman, who led the team with 100 tackles last season playing both safety and a hybrid safety/linebacker role, again showed his versatility Saturday night when he remained on the field for every play no matter what personnel the Fighting Irish used or how they lined up.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said in the offseason he would have different packages for different looks, including a 4-3 for run-first teams like Notre Dame, but he didn’t show it Saturday.

Instead, Hickman often found himself in the box as the extra run defender and acquitted himself well.

“Coach Knowles made it very clear we are a safety-driven defense,” he said. “We were going to be asked to cover. We were going to be asked to come down and make tackles in the open field or even at the line of scrimmage, so that’s just kind of something that we knew what our job was, and during camp and spring ball, we kind of worked on those things. So it was no real surprise for us come game day when we had to do our things.”

All indications are Hickman will have a new running mate against Arkansas State.

Proctor, a senior coming back from a nasty broken leg, started last week but barely played again after failing to bring down Notre Dame’s Lorenzo Styles Jr. in the open field on that 54-yard lid-lifter.

Lathan Ransom, a junior coming off a similar injury suffered much later in the season, replaced him and turned in an exemplary performance, finishing second on the squad with seven tackles.

Safeties coach Perry Eliano said the latter (Ransom’s play) was more a factor in determining playing time than the former (Proctor’s miscue).

“Proctor is a phenomenal player, great young man, and he’s got a huge role on this football team,” said Eliano, who is in his first year at Ohio State and did not recruit any of the veterans so he is still getting to know them. “I love him. I trust him, and so it wasn’t planned like that, but what I wanted to do is just calm Josh down, and Lathan ended up playing quite a bit because he got in rhythm.

“But by all means we are going to need both of them to do what we need to do.”

He said Proctor handled the benching well.

“He was great,” Eliano said. “I met with Josh like I do every guy that I have in the game or who didn’t play and just kind of got his thoughts, but he was great. He was in here this morning watching film. He was in yesterday watching film, so he has prepared like a pro.”

Hickman also expressed confidence in both Proctor and Ransom.

“They’re just two athletic freaks,” he said. “When when they see ball, they go get ball. That’s just kind of how they play. That’s their motto. Knowing and being in the room with them and being on side of them, I know what they’re thinking and how they see plays and how they want to trigger things. I think those guys are just ball hawks. And you know they’re always ready to make a play.

“Proc is an experienced veteran here. I think he handled everything well. It’s a long season ahead.”


Arkansas State at Ohio State, Noon, BTN, 1410

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