Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
The conversation about Ohio State’s defense is changing inside and outside the huddle.
The Buckeyes, which limited a hapless, anemic Illinois offense to 170 yards in a 52-22 shellacking on Saturday, moved to 10-0 and one step closer to the program’s first undefeated season since 2002.
And while the Illini’s own incompetence and 118th national ranking in total offense might have helped OSU’s Silver Bullets, sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier said the talk in the huddle among members of the once much-maligned defense is different than what it was before.
“It just got a lot easier to talk to each other, everybody’s gonna have each other accountable for everything,” said Shazier, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after a 14-tackle outing Saturday.
“Now when we go in the huddle, we don’t talk about ‘Don’t let the big play happen, don’t let this, don’t let that’ – we just go in there talking about ‘We need a turnover, three-and-out, get the offense the ball.'”
This just might be reflective of a defense coming of age, particularly after surrendering 49 points on the road against a now 4-5 Indiana squad.
Though the Buckeyes left Bloomington, Ind., with a shaky 52-49 win, first-year coach Urban Meyer approached the contest’s postgame press conference arguably as disgusted as he’d been all season.
Meyer even hinted at taking a more active role in a defense that had given up 87 points in back-to-back weeks.
But now? After allowing 22 and 23 points in wins against Purdue and at Penn State, respectively, Meyer said improvement on the defense’s part has been evident.
“Ever since the Indiana debacle in the second half, I’ve seen pretty much four-to-six seconds,” Meyer said regarding the level of effort he’s come to expect out of the Buckeyes. “And I see a lot of hard coaching going on. And that’s what I expect out of our staff.”
It’s a line Meyer’s used since he came to Columbus in Nov. 2011-4-6 seconds, he said, of relentless effort, relentless pursuit on every play of every game.
By the former Florida coach’s calculations, it’s enough to win football games.
OSU cornerback redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby said the defense is getting back to that pillar of Meyer’s coaching philosophy.
“Since the Indiana game we had a lot of serious meetings and we had to get it done on defense, and that’s what we’ve been doing lately,” he said.
Like Meyer, Roby said the game against the Hoosiers was a “wake up call.”
“We were like, ‘Man, we’re way better than this.’ Ever since then we been practicing harder and playing harder and it’s been showing,” Roby said.
Arguably, such progression had never been so apparent before Saturday in a game which saw OSU secure more first downs (32) than the Illini had points.
In reality, OSU’s defense gave up just 14 points, considering eight of Illinois’ points came off a 77-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown late in the game’s fourth quarter.
Illini junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase mustered just 96 yards and an interception against an OSU front-seven that harassed him from start to finish.
“From what I saw he was just running around all day,” Roby said.
While Scheelhaase was sacked twice, the Buckeyes’ defensive line appeared to be getting enough of a push to allow its linebackers, Shazier included, to slam the door shut on runs to the outside and entrench themselves against short, dump-off passes over the middle.
“It’s pretty fun when the coaches let the team loose and let us go after the ball,” Shazier said. “I’ve been playing like this mentality for all my life, see ball, get ball.”
That aggressiveness, however, might only be made possible because of a more aware defense.
OSU assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said players are comprehending, perhaps now more than ever, what’s happening on any given play.
“The biggest deal is I think our kids in the back seven are starting to understand when we get this formation, these are the two or three things that will happen,” Withers said. “Everybody’s recognizing exactly what they need to see in that formation.”
And if Illinois is any indication, it might be working.
“We knew exactly what was coming before they even ran it sometimes,” Shazier said.
With a bye this weekend, OSU travels to Wisconsin on Nov. 17 for its second-to-last game of the 2012 season.