Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Johnathan Hankins transformed his body this offseason to make himself a more versatile threat on the defensive line, but he didn’t have much of a chance to showcase his newfound flexibility last Saturday against Miami (Ohio).
No one on the Buckeyes’ front four was really able to display his talents against the Redhawks, but this week’s matchup against Central Florida could be different.
In OSU’s season opener, the Miami offense took the Buckeyes’ pass rush out of the game’s equation. Miami senior quarterback Zac Dysert got the ball out quickly, using a three-step drop and rolling out of the pocket on the plays when he didn’t fire a pass two seconds after receiving the snap. OSU’s defensive line wasn’t tested much in the run game either, with Miami totaling only 20 attempts on the ground for -1 yards.
The Buckeyes had just two tackles for loss – a sack apiece from freshman defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington – in Saturday afternoon’s contest.
But defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said OSU’s defensive front wasn’t aggravated during the game.
“I think when you get frustrated, you don’t play hard.” Vrabel said. “Our guys played hard.”
You get a different answer if you ask Hankins, the 322-pound junior defensive tackle who lost about 20 pounds this offseason to become more of a threat rushing the passer and chasing down running backs.
“It was pretty frustrating that they didn’t even run the ball as much as I thought,” Hankins said. “I had two tackles, and those two tackles, I made sure once I got there I would deliver a blow.”
Frustrating or not, it was clear to the OSU players what Miami was trying to do Saturday.
“They were getting (the ball) off pretty quick, but they schemed us very well,” said senior captain and defensive lineman John Simon. “The O-line protected them pretty well, and the quarterback had pretty good awareness getting rid of the ball whenever anyone got close.”
It isn’t hard to see why Miami’s offensive strategy focused on making sure the Buckeyes’ defensive line didn’t blow up too many of their plays.
Of all OSU’s units, the defensive line might be the most polished and talented.
Simon was a preseason All-American, and many experts project Hankins to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. There is hardly a drop-off in talent when considering senior nose tackle Garrett Goebel, one of the team’s five captains. The same can be said for senior defensive end Nathan Williams, who had five sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2010.
And don’t forget about Spence and Washington, two of the most heavily recruited players from the 2012 high school class.
But against the Redhawks, those six players had just a combined 11 tackles.
Against UCF Saturday, Hankins’ work, along with that of his teammates, could be on full display for fans to see.
“I’m definitely more excited,” Hankins said of Saturday’s game against the Knights. “(The UCF) offense showed that they like to run the ball, and (use) play action. So (their quarterback) is going to be in the pocket a bit longer, and have the ball a bit longer.”
After watching tape from UCF’s first game against Akron, Vrabel said he thinks the defensive line should be more effective this week, too.
“There’ll be times where we can rush the passer and play the run,” Vrabel said. “(UCF) showed at Akron the ability to run the football and wear Akron out and down. We’ll have to be prepared for that.”
The Knights’ offense is the type of offense Hankins said he loves to play against: run-heavy with a quarterback that doesn’t move around too much. It’s tough to blame him for thinking that way, especially after all the calorie watching and conditioning drills he said he did over the summer.
“I’m definitely going to be ready and sink my teeth into this game,” Hankins said.
OSU’s game against UCF is scheduled to kick off at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN2.