Toughest defense in the Big Ten Silver bullets searching for new identity

Ohio State then-sophomore cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (1) puts his hands up in the air in the second half of the Rose Bowl Game featuring Ohio State and Washington. Ohio State won 28-23. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorAugust marks a time of great change for a football team.With the whirlwind generated by new classes, personnel decisions and full contact drills, Ohio State players have to learn and adjust to the new schemes, coaches and depth charts within a month before taking the field  against Florida Atlantic Aug 31.One area that could bring about change in a positive way  for the Buckeyes is the defense. Coming off its worst yards per game performance in school history, there’s room to grow on that side of the ball. It starts with the identity that head coach Ryan Day hopes to implement.“We’ve got to be the toughest defense in the Big Ten, and we’ve got to be the best tackling defense in the Big Ten,” Day said.Ohio State’s defense drew its fair share of criticism in 2018.The team had a penchant for allowing opposing home run hitters to knock out longball touchdowns, with seven separate touchdown plays of 70 yards or more against the team this past season.Redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette, entering his third year as a starter, appears to be no stranger to criticism. He sees it as a motivator, according to junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah.“When people poke at you, poke at you, poke at you, I told him that he has a chance to look all his critics in the eyes and tell everyone to put some respect on his name,” Okudah said. “I think that’s what he’s set out to do, and I have the utmost faith he can accomplish that.”One implementation that could assist the Buckeyes in proving their critics wrong is new co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, responsible for the back end of Ohio State’s defense. That area is important to preventing home run plays as they become the last set of tacklers if a play breaks through the front seven. Preventing deep completions is also a large part of their responsibilities.Hafley, formerly an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, impresses players with his knowledge. “His football acumen is contagious,” Okudah said. “Guys are starting to see things the offense does, things that would’ve passed through last year. Guys are stepping up and being able to identify, like splits or formations.”What Hafley and fellow co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have done is attempt to make the defensive scheme more straightforward, which they hope will result in faster, more explosive play from their athletes.“It’s more ‘click’ on, see ball, get ball,” senior linebacker Malik Harrison said.With those changes implemented and only two starters missing from 2018’s defense, the Buckeyes are looking to move on with a full head of steam.“We definitely don’t dwell on last season,” Young said. “Today, the DBs, linebackers, D-line, we were all fired up. I feel like the DBs, their confidence is through the roof right now.“We put last year in the past, and our heads facing forward. We’re just trying to move the train.”There’s one month left to sort it all out. Day will be looking to his upperclassmen, players like Young, Arnette, Harrison and Okudah, to lead the charge.“This time of year you’re looking to develop chemistry and leadership,” Day said. “At the end of the day it’s going to come down to how tough we are and how well we tackle.”

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