From a coach’s perspective, Ohio State football had the perfect season opener for a team with lofty goals.
The Buckeyes not only won big against Oregon State (77-31) but did so while piling up teachable moments — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we learned a lot,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said after reviewing the film. “Always people say between week one and week two is when you make your most improvement and when you’re a young unit that even multiplies. We need to improve, that’s for sure, that’s not what we want to see out there, but the opportunity is there.”
While the front four mostly dominated, the mostly green group that made up the defense’s back seven took turns taking bad angles and missing tackles. That resulted in a slew of big plays for the Beavers.
Schiano noted 82 percent of Oregon State’s 392 total yards came on seven plays. That included a 49-yard touchdown pass and touchdown runs of 78 and 80 yards.
“We had too many big plays,” Schiano said. “It’s okay if a guy misses a tackle or makes a mistake, but we should have overlap and have guys there that can get him down. If it’s 16 or 18 yards that’s fine, but it can’t be an 80-yard play. You don’t live very long as a defense if you are giving up 80-yard plays.”
What can be done about that?
“I think any time you miss any tackles, that’s expected a little bit in the first game, but we really need to work on our angles of entry in our tackles, because that was an issue,” Schiano said.
Sometimes limiting big plays is a matter of hustle. Coaches often preach having more defenders around the ball means there is a better chance someone is able to clean up a missed tackle, and effort is certainly something that can be coached.
Jordan Fuller’s return to the lineup would probably help, too.
The junior showed last season why he was one of the nation’s top-rated defensive back recruits in 2016. He missed the Oregon State game with a hamstring injury, but Schiano said the staff hopes he will be able to play this week.
Reliable both in coverage and as a tackler, Fuller is more or less the prototype safety for today’s college football, especially the style of defense the Buckeyes prefer to play.
The Ohio State defensive scheme requires safeties to be versatile, able to cover receivers and tight ends in man coverage but also to react quickly to become the extra man in the box on a running play.
“I think one thing Jordan gives you is kind of a sweeper back there, an insurance policy,” Schiano said. “He’s a very good tackler in space and, again, I don’t know if he’s there, do we get some of those plays? Can’t live in the speculative world, but I like our odds with him. He’s an experienced player who is one of the best in the country at what he does. Certainly you miss a guy of that caliber when he’s not playing.”
If Fuller, who was among the seven players voted captain before the season, joins the lineup Saturday, Schiano would not say who would be exiting.
Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint started at safety with Fuller out.
Wint had a team-high five solo tackles but appeared to be caught flat-footed on the long scoring pass. Pryor was credited with a pair of tackles and a pass breakup.
“We knew that there could be some growing pains there,” Schiano said. “Overall I thought they were solid and made some mistakes, but now at least we have a leaping off point. Now we have to go and see how fast we can ascend, and if we get Jordan back that makes a big difference.”