With big-time players like senior quarterback Braxton Miller, sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson and others sitting out the 2014 edition of Ohio State’s annual Spring Game, it was the defense that stole the show.
The intrasquad scrimmage Saturday was one of the first chances the Buckeye coaching staff got to show off the revamped unit to the public, complete with two new coaches in defensive line coach and assistant head coach Larry Johnson and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash, as the group looks to get back to a defense known as the “Silver Bullets.”
“Silver Bullets” is the endearing nickname that has been given to the defense of the Ohio State football team. Looking at old tales and folklore, a silver bullet is known as the only weapon that can defeat monsters like witches and werewolves. The past two seasons, though, the Buckeyes’ silver bullet defense had a tough time stopping Hoosiers and Wolverines.
While the offense has taken flight under coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman, the defense has been left a little bit behind.
The defensive problems didn’t seem to be too big of an issue with the offense being able to score consistently, but they reared their ugly heads in the final three games of last season, though, as they gave up 41, 34 and 40 points to Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, respectively. The latter two games resulted in losses and left OSU with much to work on heading into the offseason.
The Spring Game provided fans with their first look at the 2014 edition of the Bullets and redshirt-sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said it was the start of getting back to their namesake.
“I knew we were going to lose a lot of key players after last season, but coming in now after going through spring practice, I’m confident we can go out there and compete at the highest level,” Powell said after the game, a 17-7 victory by the Gray team. “We have to get better and all, but now I feel like we’re on our way to being back to the Silver Bullets that everybody watching thinks of.”
The game saw both the Scarlet and Gray defensive lines dominate the opposing teams’ offensive lines throughout, putting pressure on anything and everything the offenses tried to do.
The Scarlet defense scored the first points of the game when redshirt-senior defensive lineman Rashad Frazier had a strip sack of redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Scarlet team didn’t score an offensive touchdown for the rest of the game, while the Gray team finished with just two.
It was a small sample size to work with, but Meyer said his squad showed a vast improvement from where they ended last season.
“Defense, I hope the reaction was that they looked quicker, they look faster, they trigger on the ball much better than they have in the past,” Meyer said after the game. “If that’s your perception, that’s mine as well.”
The final statistics saw neither team gain 300 yards, with the Gray team earning 262 and the Scarlet team only mustering 185.
Redshirt-freshman Chris Worley led the Scarlet team with nine total tackles, including a game-high six solo stops, and redshirt-freshman Tyquan Lewis paced the Gray squad with five tackles, including two sacks.
Meyer is one to say that to have a great football team, you need a great defensive line. With all four starters coming back in the form of senior Michael Bennett, juniors Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence and sophomore Joey Bosa, he did not shy away from his expectations for them as a unit.
“I’d be disappointed if we’re not one of the better defensive lines in America, with those four guys. They’ve had a good spring and their coach is really coaching them,” Meyer said.
The coach he’s referring to is Johnson who took over for Mike Vrabel, who left for the Houston Texans of the NFL in January.
Junior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said the transition to Johnson wasn’t easy at first, but said he has made the unit stronger.
“When coach Johnson first came in it was a difficult transition, but we’ve all bought in to what he is trying to teach us and we are playing well right now,” Schutt said. “I think the unit is going to be very successful.”
Outside of the four linemen, Meyer said the other players who have earned starting spots are junior Joshua Perry at linebacker, senior Doran Grant at cornerback and Powell at safety.
That leaves four more spots open for the Bullets and the competition is sure to be fierce and last all the way through fall camp.
No matter who fills those roles, however, Powell said they are ready to change the storyline of the offense outplaying the defense.
“See, back in the day it was about the defense,” Powell said. “So that’s what we’re trying to get the theme to go back to. Everybody (saying) ‘Let’s go to the game to see their defense.’”
OSU is scheduled to open the season Aug. 30 against Navy at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, with kickoff set for noon.