Eleven months ago, Ohio State’s defense generated 14 points off of two takeaways in a contest it won by 12 against No. 15 TCU.
Interceptions and lost fumbles can decide games. Ohio State combined for 20 in 2018, fewer than any year since 2008, and allowed the most yards per game in school history.
That’s why a defensive staff that’s turned over four coaches is looking to turn over a new leaf and generate more turnovers this season.
“When I think of turnovers, it’s everybody,” co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley said. “It’s ball disruption by the D-line. It’s linebackers getting in windows. It’s tipped balls.”
Hafley, responsible for coordinating the secondary, focused primarily on interceptions when asked about turnovers Tuesday.
Interceptions accounted for 63 percent of all takeaways during former head coach Urban Meyer’s tenure.
There’s just cause to discuss them too, because multiple players indicated the defense is forcing more picks than an overzealous fantasy football commissioner.
When asked who is making the most interceptions in camp, junior safety Brendon White rattled off six names and said he could “go on and on.”
Junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who enters 2019 fresh off a breakout Rose Bowl with five tackles and two pass break ups, shed light on why the defensive backfield is generating so many.
“Everyone’s making it a main point to get to the football every single play, and I think when you hustle to the football, you get a lot of those loose balls, a lot of those tipped balls,” Okudah said.
An emphasis since the arrival of the Buckeyes’ four new defensive assistant coaches has been simplifying the defense for players. More turnovers would indicate that defenders are playing faster.
“We’re having athletes just going out and making plays,” White said. “Not too much thinking.”
White’s words echo what Hafley is teaching.
“They’re finishing. They’re finishing violent,” Hafley said. “They’re not afraid to go make a play. That’s what practice is for.”
The versatility of the scheme with the new bullet position and the ability to switch in and out of zone and man coverages, to press, to back off, is what can confuse opposing passing attacks.
“Last year it felt like every game we had a new coverage, a new defense we were going to put in for that specific team,” junior safety Isaiah Pryor said. “This year we can just tweak it to fit [the opposing team].”
Sophomore safety Josh Proctor is said to be leading the team in interceptions during practice, with Okudah placing his total as high as eight.
Proctor didn’t see any meaningful snaps in 2018 and will be contending for playing time with senior safety and captain Jordan Fuller as well as Pryor. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade could also slide back, with experience at safety from this past season.
In what could be considered a breakout camp, teammates have noticed a shift in Proctor’s focus and confidence since his arrival as a freshman in 2018.
“Your freshman year, you come in here, you don’t know what’s about to happen,” Wade said. “[Coaches] tell you this, but when you get here, it’s always a different thing. Coach Hafley [has been] telling him he has the ability to play, [Proctor] took that to the field.”
Gaining that self-assurance is one way the secondary has grown as a whole, and it may prove the primary cause for their turnover increase.
“They’re gaining confidence, which to me is the most important thing,” Hafley said. “I want them to be fearless, and I want that to be their mindset.”