Ohio State defenders say they took ‘Silver Bullet’ tradition for granted last year

COLUMBUS -- Before going to work fixing the present Ohio State defense, the Buckeyes took a peak at the past.

Multiple current players said a video the coaches shared with them featuring former players explaining the standard of excellence established on defense at Ohio State since the middle of the 1990s made a big impact on them.

“Oh yeah, I got chills watching it and seeing all the players talk about what it means,” sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau said. “For a young player like myself just to see how much it meant and that it’s a real brotherhood, ‘Silver Bullets’ carries off the field as well — it’s something you wear on your back with with pride.

The 1996 Buckeyes were the first to be known as the Silver Bullets, a name credited to Fred Pagac Sr.

Like new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles this season, Pagac took over a unit that needed to recover from a sub-par season punctuated by an embarrassing afternoon in Michigan.

Back then, Tim Biakabutuka did the dominating as he rushed for an OSU opponent record 313 yards in a 31-23 Michigan victory.

Last season, Hassan Haskins filled that role, running for 169 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-27 Michigan victory that snapped Ohio State’s eight-game winning streak in the series and ended the Buckeyes’ pursuit of a fifth consecutive Big Ten title.

Pagac turned Ohio State into a high-pressure, all-out attacking unit that recorded 14 more sacks and seven more tackles for loss (in one less game) in 1996 than ‘95. The Buckeyes allowed 11 fewer touchdowns and cut opponents’ points per game to 10.9 from 16.9.

Buckeye opponents ran for 2.6 yards per carry and 95.7 yards per game in 1996, down from 3.8 and 145.5, respectively, the season before.

Opponents threw for more than 33 yards less per game, and their completion percentage dropped from 52 to 46 while total yards per play shrank from 5.0 to 3.8.

Knowles no doubt would like to see similar trends this season.

He likely won’t employ the same suffocating style of the original Silver Bullets — today’s spread offenses make that nearly impossible — but the players indicated the main adjustment might need to be mental anyway.

“We definitely know that we weren’t where we were supposed to be,” senior defensive end Zach Harrison said. “The term Silver Bullet is thrown around and we kind of took that for granted. We’re taking it more personal now. We know that there was a standard set at Ohio State years before we were even born, and we’re the next up to hold that legacy and hold that standard. We’re taking pride in that, and all of us know that’s where we need to get to.”

Fellow end Jack Sawyer, like Harrison a native of central Ohio, agreed.

“Being a Silver Bullet, you can’t take it for granted,” the sophomore said. “I think last year maybe we kind of just expected things to happen because it did in years previously. We just expected to win, and I think we kind of got complacent a little bit.”

He indicated poor performances against Oregon and Michigan as well as a rough first half in the Rose Bowl against Utah could be attributed to lacking the understanding of what it took to uphold the old OSU standard.

“I think this year we’re just taking everything more seriously and really trying to lock in every little detail,” Sawyer said.

“It was eye-opening hearing (the former players) talk about it because they get so passionate talking about it still to this day,” Sawyer said. “They kind of kicked us in our ass a little bit and got us moving a little bit about it. Ever since then, we haven’t really looked back from it.”

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