COLUMBUS — Middle linebacker Baron Browning said first-year Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington has tried to make the position group a little meaner.
Compared to last season, Ohio State’s defense has been downright nasty so far in 2019.
The Buckeyes gave the latest showing of their improved defense in a 76-5 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The Redhawks managed 130 yards of offense and averaged 2.1 yards per play.
“One thing our unit wants to do is set the tone,” said Browning, who had two tackles for loss. “Not just my unit, but the whole defense in general is trying to be physical on the point of contact and send a message every play we can.”
Browning sent a message in the second quarter when he chased down Miami running back Maurice Thomas, picked up him, swung him around and brought him to the ground.
“I was just trying to make the tackle, and it just happened like that,” Browning said.
The entire defense has sent a message the last three weeks. Since the season opener against Florida Atlantic, sustained drives by Ohio State’s opponents have been few and far between.
Touchdowns have been rarer — a second quarter TD by Indiana on a trick play is the only touchdown the Buckeyes have given up in their last three games.
The unit has shown much improvement under first-year co-defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison. The squad allowed an average of 403 yards and 25 points per game last season and has allowed an average of 222 yards and nine points per game this year.
Miami gained most of its yards in the first quarter and built an early 5-0 lead. The Buckeyes’ starters shut down the Redhawks in the second quarter. Miami committed three turnovers and had negative-7 yards in the quarter.
“It didn’t really bother us,” Browning said of the early deficit. “Everyone that plays us is going to give us their best shot. It is really just about responding. They had the momentum at the beginning, but we swung it back around in our favor. We’ve just got to keep that momentum going, keep playing hard and playing fast.”
Two of Miami’s turnovers in the second quarter were fumbles that happened on sacks by defensive end Chase Young. Young has 14 tackles and seven sacks this season.
“It was kind of a weird start today and I just had to go talk to the guys and say, ‘Let’s pick it up,’” Young said. “They came out and tried to go on us, but after we picked it up and got into a rhythm, we were good.”
FIELDS…Justin Fields’ fourth collegiate start went from bad to historic in the first half.
Fields fumbled while being sacked in the end zone on Ohio State’s second play of the day, and the ball went out of the back of the end zone for a Miami safety.
He responded, though, by completing 14-of-21 passes for 223 yards and four touchdowns and running for 36 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in the first half.
“Coach always tells us that we’re going to eventually get punched in the face, so it’s about how we responded,” Fields said. “I think we responded in a great way. Just have to keep doing it.”
All of Fields’ TD throws and runs came in the big second quarter. By doing so, he became the first FBS player in the last 20 seasons to be responsible for six touchdowns in a single quarter.
NIGHT OWLS…It’ll be a while before Ohio State will be playing under much (or any) daylight again, as the team’s next three games will have evening start times.
The Buckeyes travel to Nebraska for a 7:30 p.m. start Saturday and then will host Michigan State Oct. 5 with the same kickoff time. Both games will be televised by ABC.
After an off week, Ohio State will travel to Northwestern Friday, Oct. 18. That contest will kick off at 8:30; TV coverage is still to be determined.
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