Ohio State Buckeyes lead nation in turnover margin

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
The Buckeyes talk about facing Rutgers and returning from their bye week.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Defense has tied school record for interceptions returned for scores


SATURDAY’S GAME

Rutgers at Ohio State, noon, Big Ten Network, 1410

Jerome Baker had one thought when he saw Jalyn Holmes tip a pass, watched the ball fall right into his hands and began to sprint for the end zone.

“Don’t get caught,” Baker said.

Baker, a sophomore linebacker from Cleveland Benedictine, raced 68 yards for a touchdown to give the Ohio State Buckeyes a 14-0 lead over the Oklahoma Sooners in the first quarter on Sept. 17. That paved the way for a 45-24 victory in Norman, Okla., and added another line to the Ohio State defense’s impressive resume.

In three games, the No. 2 Buckeyes (3-0) have returned four interceptions for touchdowns. With nine games to play in the regular season, they already have tied the single-season school record in that category. The 1987 and 1996 teams also returned four picks for scores.

Ohio State’s defense has put more points on the board (28) than the offenses of its three opponents: Bowling Green, Tulsa and Oklahoma (23 points combined). Could the defense outscore its opponents over the course of an entire season?

“That’s the goal,” linebacker Chris Worley said Monday. “If you do that, we won’t lose a game, technically speaking. But our job is to outplay the other defense. If our defense outplays their defense, we should win the game.”

Four players have scored for Ohio State’s defense. Freshman Rodjay Burns returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Bowling Green.

In the next game against Tulsa, the Buckeyes broke the game open with two interception returns for scores in the second quarter. Safety Malik Hooker returned one interception 26 yards for a touchdown, and less than three minutes later, cornerback Marshon Lattimore scored on a 40-yard return.

Every time, Ohio State gets a turnover, the players stick to a script.

“The person who gets the turnover or recovers it hits the near sideline and goes as fast as he can,” Worley said, “and everyone else picks up a block. If it’s an interception, block the intended receiver first and go from there. The big thing for the defense and football in general is just awareness. You always play through the whistle. Once we see it, everyone reacts.”

No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Ohio State are the only teams in the country with four defensive touchdowns. The Crimson Tide (4-0) have played one more game than the Buckeyes. Marshall, Tulsa and Houston are the only teams with three defensive touchdowns.

The Buckeyes have forced 11 turnovers (nine interceptions and two fumble recoveries) and turned the ball over only twice themselves. They lead the nation in turnover margin (plus nine).

Meyer doesn’t see any luck involved in the defensive scores.

“I think we have obviously very good coaches and players,” he said Tuesday. “We don’t think there’s such a thing as coincidence or good fortune, or why practice that? The fact is the guys are good athletes. They take coaching very well. They’re well trained.”

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