Pete Werner grew up in Indianapolis. His family had season tickets for Indiana Hoosiers football. The first time he dressed as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes, he stood on the sidelines in Bloomington in the 2017 season opener.
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Indiana did recruit Werner but started pursuing him later than some schools, which played a role in him not including the school on his list of final five choices.
Those are all reasons Ohio State’s third game of the season at noon Saturday against the Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium, will be more special for Werner, a junior linebacker, than most of his teammates.
“I have a lot of family who will be at that game,” Werner said. “I grew up going to these games as a kid. It will mean something to me.”
The game means something to Ohio State, too. After routing Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati by a combined score of 87-21, they jump into Big Ten Conference play with their first road game. Ohio State has won 23 straight games in the series since a 27-27 tie in 1990, but many of the recent games have been competitive if not always close at the final whistle.
For Werner, a second-year starter who has nine tackles in the first two games, it’s another chance to show his versatility. In the first two games, he has sometimes dropped back into coverage, playing the role of a safety. He played in the secondary in his first two years at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and said he still has some feel for the position, and the coaches trust his instincts there.
“We’ve done it for a while now,” Werner said. “We practiced it in the spring. We haven’t really showcased it until Saturday. It’s kind of weird. It’s a different feeling. I’m not used to dropping back into the middle of the field. But I like it.”
Werner’s official position is SAM linebacker, or outside linebacker. He has started the first two games next to Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison. He said that role fits his athletic ability.
“Having a full year (as a starter), I feel better,” Werner said. “My footwork’s better. My eyes are better. With this position, you need your footwork and you need your eyes.”
This Ohio State defense has succeeded in limiting big plays. The Buckeyes have allowed two plays of 30 or more yards in the first two games but nothing longer than 50 yards. Only one run has resulted in a gain of more than 20 yards.
Big plays bothered the Ohio State defense throughout the 2018 season.
“No big plays allowed kind of makes me love this defense,” Werner said. “Last year was kind of frustrating. We’d get 3-and-5, and be ready to get off the field, and there would be a 25-yard gain, or if it was 1st-and-10, they’d get 25 yards and then they’re running down the field for a touchdown, and you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ Just one little thing can lead to a big play. Now we have a feel where if everyone does their job and runs to the football, it’s not going to mess you up too bad, and everybody has a chance to stop that.”