Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is given the freedom to devise game plans, but coach Urban Meyer always has veto power, and he was vocal last week about wanting Fickell to ditch his conservative schemes.
Although the Buckeyes have eight first-year starters on the unit, those soft coverages and three-man rushes go against Meyer’s aggressive nature. And they’ve also allowed opponents to monopolize the ball at times, keeping it from OSU’s potent offense.
Fickell didn’t have any trouble shifting into attack mode Saturday night against Penn State, calling more blitzes than he had all year.
“We knew we had to,” he said. “Obviously, coach Meyer has challenged us and almost put out some mandates, saying, ‘Hey, you guys have got to be aggressive.’ And we do,” Fickell said.
“With the type of offense we have, we can take some chances. If something happens, it happens. What we can’t have is methodical drives that keep the ball from our offense as well. I think that’s just playing to your strengths.”
The Buckeyes applied heat on the Nittany Lion offense, notching six tackles for losses and four sacks in a 63-14 win. They had only one negative-yardage play the week before against Iowa.
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who was leading the Big Ten with nearly 280 passing yards per game, finished 12-of-23 for 112 yards with one TD and two interceptions before being pulled in the third quarter.
“We had a freshman coming into the ‘Shoe. We had a great 12th man. And there’s a lot of pressure with it being a night game,” said OSU safety C.J. Barnett, who had one of the picks. “Being a freshman and never being in that kind of environment, it was huge that we were able to rattle him and get him uncomfortable.”
Prying the ball from Penn State quickly meant quarterback Braxton Miller and his mates handled it more often, and they were dazzling while scoring touchdowns on six of their seven first-half possessions. The Buckeyes finished with 686 total yards, the most ever allowed by Penn State.
The 63 points were the most by a Nittany Lion opponent since 1899.
“I think we can play better,” said hybrid back Dontre Wilson, who caught one of Miller’s three TD passes. “The whole starting offense didn’t finish the second half. We could have put up a lot more points. As long as the defense keeps playing like that, we’re going to be good.”
The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten), who ran their winning streak to 20 in a row, rushed for 408 yards and didn’t commit a turnover for the second straight game.
“I like where we’re at as a team,” Meyer said. “We all needed to see some pass rush and pass defense, and guys stepped up.
“That was the most impressive part of the game to me. We caused turnovers and hit the quarterback a little bit. We haven’t been doing that. And that was a sign of good coaching. Some young, talented players that haven’t played a lot of football are starting to come into their own a little bit.”
Miller was 18-of-24 passing for a career-high 252 yards and notched his first two rushing TDs of the year. He’s completing 70.6 percent of his tosses this season.
“I just love where Braxton’s at right now,” Meyer said. “I love the fact that he’s acting like a quarterback. I’m not disrespecting Braxton. You guys know I love that guy. But I felt like he was an athlete playing quarterback a year ago. I feel like he’s a quarterback that’s a really good athlete now.”
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-6, 0-3), noon, Big Ten Network, 1410