Football Linebackers displayed newfound physicality against FAU

Ohio State sophomore linebacker Baron Browning (5) tackles Florida Atlantic junior wide receiver Willie Wright (1) in the second half of the game on Aug. 31. Ohio State won 45-21. Credit: Cori Wade | Assistant Photo EditorBy laying the wood to James Charles, Malik Harrison laid the groundwork for Ohio State’s linebackers in 2019.The senior linebacker’s first quarter hit on the redshirt junior Florida Atlantic running back Saturday symbolizes the mentality that linebackers coach Al Washington spent this offseason ingraining within his players.“He’s a physical guy. He likes physical things,” Harrison said. “He gets inside [in drills], damn near playing a rep. [The hit] was just natural to me, because we practice like that.”Harrison followed up the first quarter shot with a bone-rattling knock to FAU senior tight end Harrison Bryant, and the force caused him to drop the intended pass.The hits also symbolized Ohio State’s first-half defensive dominance, as it held FAU to negative four yards the first 30 minutes.Harrison said he didn’t feel alone in his efforts, and that he felt his physicality throughout the rest of the linebacker position.“Coach Washington doesn’t care who you are, we all have the same standard,” Harrison said. “If you’re in there, you’ve gotta come with it.Co-defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison have each talked all year about designing a defense that allows their defenders to play with that aggressive, energetic mindset. Today Ohio State rolled with a mix of looks. It started with one high safety, three corners and the bullet position, then rolled back in a third linebacker. An occasional corner would slip back, mostly redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade, to make a two-deep formation.No matter the look, Hafley was pleased with the way his defense attacked.“The way we ran to the ball, the way we tackled — it looked to me, at least from upstairs, like there’s seven guys around the ball carrier on every single play,” Hafley said. “From that regard, which is probably the thing I was most anxious about, I’m really proud of those guys.”Head coach Ryan Day echoed his assistant’s sentiments after the game, highlighting the play of two linebackers and a cornerback.“I was watching Pete Werner and Malik Harrison and Jeff Okudah come into the ball and you could feel the violence on the field,” Day said. “That’s what we want. We want that toughness.”Werner, a junior, starts at outside linebacker with Harrison, and admitted during practice to hearing criticism for his tackling in the offseason. He made three solo tackles Saturday.Another player with tackling issues in 2018 was junior linebacker Baron Browning, who occupies the middle with redshirt junior Tuf Borland. Middle linebackers are known as captains of the defense, the communication hub, but Hafley was most impressed with their abilities as run plugs. “They looked fast and they looked physical,” Hafley said. “There was a lot of tackles made. It was second-and-10 and third-and-10 a lot in that first half.”It wasn’t all Buckeye candy and scarlet roses for Ohio State’s linebackers Saturday, however. FAU amassed 242 offensive yards in the second half, much of it against substitutes, but the defense returned from the locker room flat-footed nonetheless.Sometimes though, blessings can disguise themselves. Hafley and company will have more obvious errors on film to evaluate and fix ahead of Ohio State’s date with Cincinnati next Saturday.“You take your biggest jump, at least in my experience, from week one to week two,” Hafley said. “I know that’s kind of cliche but it’s the truth.”

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