In 2011, Ohio State had its lowest win total in 23 years.
In 2018, Ohio State gave up the most yards per game of any defense in program history.
Those were the only seasons since 2004 that an Ohio State defensive back, rather than a linebacker, led the team in tackles.
At the 2019 Big Ten Media Day, Ohio State senior safety and this past season’s tied leader in tackles Jordan Fuller said his uptick in takedowns may point to a flawed defense.
“The kinds of tackles I was making weren’t the best, and they weren’t highlight plays, so it wasn’t great for us,” Fuller said. “I would much rather lower my tackles than have the team suffer.”
However, Fuller said the new scheme, courtesy of four new coaches on defense, has inspired more confidence, swagger and speed — and less thinking — amid the Buckeye secondary heading into this season.
Fuller said this past season’s scheme often led to confusion between players when a coverage would be completely changed during pre-snap reads. He said the confusion led to distrust between teammates, which allowed for teams to make big plays against a historically stout Buckeye defense.
In Ohio State’s 52-51 overtime win against Maryland in 2018, the Buckeyes allowed then-redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland to go for 298 yards on 21 carries. Fuller pinpointed that game as a particularly low point for the Buckeye secondary.
“It was just really frustrating. Definitely you heard the ‘We’re better than this. We have to tighten everything up.’ But it just gets frustrating and things just kept happening. It was bad vibes all around. It wasn’t fun.”
With the addition of first-year Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who also serves as the Buckeyes’ secondary coach, Fuller said a few changes have made significant differences in execution.
The safety and cornerback rooms have been combined, which Fuller said has vastly improved communication and understanding between the positions. Fuller said last season his attempts to call out changed coverages to senior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah would go unheard or create confusion, but now with more time spent together, the pair have developed nonverbal signals to utilize during games.
Fuller added that last year it was his duty to make the majority of calls on defense, but this season the linebackers will be shouldering more of that responsibility, freeing him up to play naturally rather than overthink.
Without a single senior at defensive back this past season, Fuller said the youth of the secondary was another factor that led to defensive issues.
Now Fuller joins cornerback Damon Arnette as the only seniors at defensive back, and head coach Ryan Day said Thursday that he has high hopes for Fuller’s final season.
“[Fuller] makes the right calls, he’s intelligent, and he’s productive, so he’s a guy that we’re expecting big things from,” Day said. “And I keep saying that the veteran guys have to play verteran. He’s one of those guys.”
Day said despite the inconsistent play of last year’s defense, he feels that they have the right personnel, coaches and scheme in place. In his opening statement at Big Ten Media Day Thursday, Day called many of his defensive players “salty” about last season, and said they have something to prove.
When asked if Day’s description of the defense’s attitude was accurate, Fuller did not disagree.
“We just have a big chip on our shoulder,” Fuller said. “Because last year wasn’t fun and wasn’t the year we wanted. At all. So this year’s for redemption.”