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Buckeyes looking for defense to make its presence felt

Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant saw nothing to criticize in the performance by the defense against Buffalo last week.

“For the opening game, I thought we ran to the ball and swarmed to the ball like 11 silver bullets,” he said. “That was the one thing that really stuck out to me.”

Grant, though, may be in the minority. Almost everyone else had a drastically different takeaway from that game.

The Buckeyes gave up only 258 total yards, but they didn’t apply the pressure that coach Urban Meyer promised would be coming this season.

Buffalo was able to play simple pitch-and-catch for some easy first downs, and OSU managed to notch just one sack against a middling MAC team.

Part of the passive approach was because the Buckeyes were playing with nine new starters — 10 when linebacker Ryan Shazier went to the sidelines for extended periods with muscle cramps.

Still, Meyer said, “I think we all want to be a little more aggressive. “

The Buckeyes will likely turn up the heat when they host San Diego State at 3:30 p.m. today. Cornerback Bradley Roby, a junior All-American, will make his season debut after being suspended for the opener, and safety C.J. Barnett, a three-year starter, will be back after missing the first game with an ankle injury.

More stability in the back end allows for greater aggression up front.

Having Roby and Barnett “will bring more wisdom to the defense, especially in the secondary,” said senior safety Christian Bryant, the lone returning starter on the field at times in the opener. “It’s going to boost this defense’s confidence by having those two veterans back. I know I’ll feel better.”

Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell broke out into a smile after the Buffalo game when asked about the prospect of getting Roby back, as if to say the average fan has no idea about the impact a lock-down corner can have.

“Bradley definitely makes a big difference not only just with his playing out there, but his confidence and that little bit of swagger he has,” Fickell said. “We’re excited to get him back.

“I know (the first game) was a hard day for him. That’s part of the growing process for him and all of us and will make us better in the long run.”

Sophomore Armani Reeves replaced Roby in the starting lineup and was on the field for 68 defensive plays after getting a mere two snaps all of last season. And he looked at times like a player getting his first meaningful action.

“I thought he was average. I thought his effort was fantastic. He’s a hustler. He plays very, very hard,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said, noting that Reeves also had 12 special teams plays.

“It was warm Saturday, and that’s a hard day for your first day. I thought at times his skill set was less than what we’d seen in practice, and I wouldn’t attribute that necessarily all to fatigue. I think the other team made some plays, and I think they tried to go after him.

“The thing I was pleased with was the lack of deep balls. Even though they tried some, they weren’t able to complete any of them.”

That’s one area where the Buckeyes may be improved this year — being less susceptible to giving up big plays. Buffalo’s longest gain was 25 yards. In one game alone last year, a 35-28 win over Cal, the Buckeyes were gashed for six plays of 26 yards or longer.

They were ranked 75th in the nation in 2012 in allowing plays of 40 yards or more, surrendering 14.

“I think we had 10 or 11 missed tackles. But the thing is, this season, those missed tackles weren’t long breakaway runs like they were last year,” Bryant said. “Last year, we had a couple missed tackles that went for 81 yards or 71 yards. I feel as long as we eliminate those — keep our (position) with our defense and play with speed — we’ll be good.”

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