The first tackle for the Buckeye safeties this year came on Notre Dame’s second drive of the game. Quarterback Tyler Buchner dropped back on third-and-seven and looked to his All-American tight end Michael Mayer.
Mayer, listed at 6-foot-4 1/2 and 265 pounds, caught the ball about a yard short of the first down and that is where he stayed after junior safety Lathan Ransom — all 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds of him — immediately dropped him.
It was the first statement from this Ohio State defense that five defensive backs on the field shouldn’t lull an offense into a false sense of Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
Still, Ransom was outweighed by 60 pounds. The math alone suggests that Mayer should have won. Why didn’t he?
“Coach Mick. Weight room, desire, heart,” Ohio State safeties coach Perry Eliano said, referring to the offseason work with strength coach Mickey Marotti. “And we’re only gonna play one way. We will be physical, we will be tough. We talked about it, and we want to put it on display.”
Since the day defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was hired back in December, it was assumed that there would be times he’d need to adjust his defense to deal with more physical offenses than he saw in the Big XII.
Instead of three safeties in his base defense, the thought was that there would be times when he’d need to put a bigger lineup on the field and replace a safety with a linebacker.
After one game against a physical offense, however, the three-safety defense held up just fine. Knowles has said from the outset that this is a safety-driven defense, and on Saturday night they drove the Irish running game right off a cliff.
Notre Dame rushed for just 76 yards on 30 carries before bursting into flames at the bottom of a rocky ravine.
“We were physical,” Eliano said. “They felt us, you know? And that’s something that we talked about in the offseason, all summer, and all camp that, ‘Yeah, we’re talented, but that only gets you so far.’ We need to be physical. We need to be tough, not only physically, but mentally. We need to understand that when adverse situations hit, stay locked in and keep grinding. And so I’m more proud about that, that we really, really stepped up to the challenge of being able to respond when adverse situations hit and also being able to be physical and tough. And make sure that they felt us at the end of the game.”
Notre Dame definitely felt the Buckeyes at the end of the game, and probably still a bit on Sunday and Monday as well.
Eliano was proud of his safeties for stepping up to the challenge, and then exceeding almost everyone’s expectations.
“Like Jim said from the very beginning when he got here, we’re a safety-driven defense, so there’s a premium and an expectation on each and every safety,” he said. “Just like each and every defensive player, we all have our roles. We talked about being champions in our roles all the time, and so they knew what the challenge was when they got in the big personnel people. They were willing to step up to the challenge, which I didn’t expect anything different from them.”
Notre Dame is not yet a member of the Big Ten, but they play a style of offense that the Buckeyes will see throughout the season. The safeties passed the first test, and they passed it with ease.
Ohio State faces Arkansas State this weekend, so that will be a different kind of test, but did the result against Notre Dame give Eliano give him confidence for the upcoming games against run-heavy teams like Wisconsin and the like?
“I’m focused on the Red Wolves right now,” he said smiling, “but we’ll be ready.”
The Buckeyes host the 1-0 Arkansas State Red Wolves this Saturday at 12:00 pm on BTN.
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