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Ohio State victory fueled by big plays in the secondary

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OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) guards Tulsa redshirt sophomore wide receiver Justin Hobbs (29) during the first quarter against Tulsa on Sept.10. The Buckeyes won 48-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) guards Tulsa redshirt sophomore wide receiver Justin Hobbs (29) during the first quarter against Tulsa on Sept.10. The Buckeyes won 48-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

A pick-six and three interceptions against Bowling Green in Week 1 was the start coach Urban Meyer was looking for out of his defense. However, all along, he knew Tulsa’s offense would be more of a test for his secondary.

From the very first play from scrimmage, the OSU defense made its presence felt.

Tulsa redshirt senior quarterback Dane Evans threw to his left on the first play of the opening drive where redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore made a diving interception the pass inside the Tulsa 20 yard line.

OSU only mustered a 29-yard field goal from the short field, taking an early 3-0 lead, and continued to look sluggish throughout the first quarter.

Redshirt quarterback J.T. Barrett was 2-for-6 passing for 19 yards in the first quarter. Junior H-back Curtis Samuel — who accumulated 261 yards of total offense against Bowling Green — didn’t register a touch on the team’s four possessions in the first quarter, three of which ended in three-and-outs.

The offense started to move the ball in the second half, but only could add another short field goal to extend the lead to 6-0.

OSU was likely heading into the half without a touchdown when the defense decided to take matters into its own hands.

Redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker intercepted a pass from Evans and returned it 26 yards for his first touchdown as a Buckeye, giving the Scarlet and Gray a more comfortable lead heading into halftime.

Then, right before the half, the defense struck again. Lattimore returned to the scene in the middle of an intense rainfall at the end of the second quarter, making his second interception of the game when the intended Tulsa wide receiver lost his footing and the ball fell right into the hands of Lattimore, who returned it 40 yards for his first-ever pick six.

“Just getting here on defense and having the whole team get hyped for you, it’s a blessing,” Lattimore said. “I love it. I loved getting everybody hyped like that.”

The play of the defense thus far has lifted the team at several points in OSU’s first two games. Hooker and Lattimore each sit with a touchdown and five combined picks in just the first two weeks of the season. Hooker said after the game that he had been battling a stomach bug and a nagging back injury throughout the week, yet his performance yielded more raving reviews of his athleticism.

At halftime, the Buckeyes led 20-3 without having an offensive touchdown and with just 161 total yards of offense. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell that his defense prides itself on harnessing momentum when it’s available.

“Whether it’s the offense, defense or special teams, there is momentum in every game and once you get it, you got to keep it,” Fickell said. “If you don’t have it, you got to find a way to get it. We have to be able to feed off of each other, and I think we did a good job of that today.”

Fickell compared the 2016 defense to that of 2006 when the Buckeyes had to replace several starters, yet caused turnovers at will.

Meyer credits the play of the defense thus far to coaching and the ability of young players to buy into the coaching. He said guys like Lattimore, Hooker and sophomore cornerback Denzel Ward have waited for their opportunity and it’s paying off now.

“Secondary tonight, we knew they were going to come out and try to throw the ball around a lot,” Hooker said. “We just wanted to go out there and play our technique, our fundamentals and it ended up working out for us.”

Gareon Conley had his first pick of the season late in the third quarter for the defense’s fourth on the day. Moving forward, OSU has its toughest opponent yet of the young season in No. 14 Oklahoma next week in Norman.

The secondary has been the best unit on the team for Meyer and company through the first couple weeks, but it knows the road that lies ahead.

“The great thing is we have some depth and we have talent,” Fickell said. “But we have to make sure we understand this is a process that we’re going to continue to grow.”

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