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Dotting the “i”: Ohio State secondary one of team’s best offensive weapons

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OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates his pick-six during the second half of the Buckeyes game against Nebraska on Nov. 5. The Buckeyes won 62-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates his pick-six during the second half of the Buckeyes game against Nebraska on Nov. 5. The Buckeyes won 62-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

Ohio State hosted one of its biggest games of the year last week against No. 10 Nebraska, under the lights. It was the second largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history and arguably had the most talented list of visiting recruits since OSU coach Urban Meyer began his tenure. The pregame spectacle that was the laser-light show inside the team tunnel, the fireworks shooting off atop the scoreboard and an introduction video highlighting the 2014 national championship were done to make an impression on those in attendance.

However, it was up to the Scarlet and Gray to leave the lasting impact. And so they did, with the defense setting the tone.

Junior safety Damon Webb intercepted a pass that was tipped by junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan and redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore, then returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. That was the team’s fifth pick-six of the year, which marked a school record.

“That was big. The crowd was going crazy on the first third down of the game,” Webb said. “That definitely lifted up the crowd and had momentum on our side.”

The OSU defense has been a catalyst at times for an offense that has struggled with a quick start for nearly the whole season. Two weeks ago, for the very first time all year, the Buckeyes notched its first touchdown on its first drive of the game. This time around the defense was one of the best offensive weapons for coach Urban Meyer.

Later in the game, redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker made a difference on defense by making his fifth interception and scoring his second touchdown of the 2016 season. OSU now has six interceptions for touchdowns this year, with three games still to play.

The skill and athleticism in the OSU secondary has begged the question if any players have tried to play both sides, offense as well as defense. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said that for the defense to get better, the player have to focus on their individual positions rather than try to learn a new one, not saying that the players wouldn’t be open to taking a stab on offense.

Regardless, the OSU secondary has been electric when the players have the ball in their hands. Co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach Greg Schiano has been mostly responsible for the increase in scoring for the offense. Schiano has put an emphasis on making the most of opportunities; a play Schiano calls “sideline return.” McMillan said that there’s one thing on his mind when the ball is caught by one of his teammates: “Turn around and block somebody.”

“This is a game of energy. It’s a game of momentum,” Fickell said. “If you got momentum, you got to find a way to keep it. If you don’t have the momentum, you got to do something.”

OSU currently ranks fourth in the nation in passing defense and ninth in the country with 14 interceptions. Last Saturday, Nebraska was just 1-for-13 for 12 yards in downfield passing against Conley, Ward and Lattimore. Webb said that there’s not necessarily a competitive between the defensive backs to see who can have the most interceptions at season’s end, but there’s definitely some discussion in the group.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” he said. “Just looking forward to Maryland and trying to make the same thing happen.

As for any nicknames for the unit, Webb said that’s still a work in progress.

No. 5 OSU kicks off at Maryland at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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