“I just saw ball, I get ball.”
That’s how Ohio State football senior defensive back Orhian Johnson described the fourth-quarter interception he grabbed against the Central Florida Knights.
The interception was coupled with a team-high five solo tackles – six in total – and a deflection that led to an interception by senior cornerback Travis Howard during the then-No. 14 Buckeyes (2-0) 31-16 win against unranked UCF (1-1).
Johnson hasn’t always been the defensive catalyst for OSU he showed himself to be Saturday at Ohio Stadium, though. Not in the eyes of first-year coach Urban Meyer, anyway.
“(Johnson’s) a guy that’s been around here, production hasn’t been exactly what it needs to be,” Meyer said of Johnson’s play in his three previous seasons at OSU.
Recently, there’s been a change. Johnson said he sees the value of Meyer’s criticism and encouragement, and is trying to better himself.
“You know, just with Coach Meyer going out there and pushing me. He’s really trying to get the best out of me, getting all the potential that I do have and just kind of pouring it all out,” Johnson said. “There will be some times where I may not do that and I’m really just trying to do better for everybody on the team and for myself.”
In the run-up to the UCF game, Meyer said he was very involved in the decision to increase Johnson’s playing time heading into Saturday’s contest.
That decision paid off.
Johnson might have gotten a whole lot more than just the ball during the UCF game. By seeing the ball and getting it on his fourth-quarter interception, as well as several others during the contest, Johnson, a backup on OSU’s two-deep depth chart entering the Buckeyes’ second game, might now be cemented among the top-11 players on OSU’s defense.
“He does some really good things for us on special teams,” Meyer said after the game. “And we needed more production out of that nickel spot.”
Johnson, who sported a grin as he walked off the field after Saturday’s victory, agreed with Meyer’s assessment of his OSU career and praised his coach for encouraging him.
“The coaches said they’re going to put the best 11 players on the field, so they’re going to go there and put whoever the best 11 is,” Johnson said. “Last week, I wasn’t in, so I can’t really worry about it. This week, I just got to go out there and when they call my number, make the plays when it’s called.”
Despite criticism for past play from Meyer and himself, it wasn’t all bad for Johnson coming into 2012. OSU co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Everett Withers said Johnson has always possessed the physical tools needed to succeed.
His physical attributes – Johnson stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds – coupled with his experience in the program make Johnson an attractive option, Withers said.
“We’re always trying to find our best 11 (players). What Orhian give us, maybe, is a little more athleticism in the slot to do some things,” Withers said. “He’s an older guy. He’s a senior. He’s played a lot of snaps here. To be able to have that kind of guy that you can put in a game … obviously helps your defense.”
Johnson tallied a single tackle in OSU’s season opener against Miami (Ohio). Of the six he had against the Knights, two came in the fourth quarter as the Buckeyes tried to stave off a UCF comeback.
He saw the ball, went and got it and will probably get more chances to do so in the coming weeks.
“I just want to go out there and help (my teammates). I was glad I could go out there and make those plays to help the team win,” he said. “I mean, it felt good. It felt comfortable being out there on the field today. Just getting out there (and) running around – it definitely felt good to get my hands on the ball.”
OSU, now ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press top 25 poll, continues non-conference play against California Saturday at noon in Ohio Stadium.