Ohio State sophomore linebacker Pete Werner said the defense has had its best week of practice heading into Saturday’s game against No. 18 Michigan State.
The defense, as a unit, feels a level of pressure to perform against the Spartans, showing that with the effort put forth in practice, he said.
“I think we just want that impact game,” Werner said. “We just want that game to show it all and it starts in practice, what you do in practice kind of shows what you have in the game.”
For head coach Urban Meyer, the increased performance of his defense in practice this week has a simpler explanation: health.
He said Wednesday the secondary will have all three cornerbacks ready to go and that the Buckeyes will have good depth at safety against the Spartans.
“We felt better because they are healthy,” Meyer said. “For this time of year and the schedule we play, we are pretty healthy.”
For redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, minor injuries add up throughout the season for defensive players, taking a toll on the preparation of the unit as a whole each week.
“When you are all hurt and banged up, we don’t have the motivation and the drive because you can’t do anything, so it’s hard really to get to it,” Jones said. “But now it’s starting to change.”
Not for Jones: He is still trying to overcome a foot injury suffered in Ohio State’s win against Penn State. He acknowledged that it’s something that will linger for the remainder of the season.
“Part of football. I mean, you are going to get those little injures,” Jones said. “I’m not really injured though. It’s like, I’m just hurt, like I’m not really injured. I’m not going to be off my game or anything, so I’m not really too ticked off, but it’s annoying that it’s there.”
Jones said, even though he feels pain in his foot at times during the game, “if you are going to play, you are going to play.” This is something the defensive tackle has taken to heart, recording a team-leading 10 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, the most on the team.
But this is just in response to the approach opposing offenses have had against Ohio State this season.
“It kind of feels like everybody we plays just somebody,” Jones said. “Every game’s a championship game it seems like.”
So, as the Spartan offense prepares for the Ohio State defense like it is “a championship game,” the approach for the Buckeyes does not change moving forward, junior defensive tackle Davon Hamilton said.
He said Ohio State already has the pieces to succeed against Michigan State.
“I’m not going to say we are missing anything,” Hamilton said. “We just have to make some more emphasis on focusing on what we have to do. That’s really the only thing I really feel like is ‘missing.’”
With that mentality, Hamilton said the Ohio State defensive leaders have shifted the focus more on celebrating the progress and “having fun” in practice.
For Hamilton, Ohio State’s approach defensively will be focused on making that impact the Buckeyes need.
But it’s also to let the players enjoy football.
“Football, it’s a tense game,” Hamilton said. “You should be really focused and you should go out and try your hardest. But at the same time, if you are not having fun, you are not going to want to do it.”