Greg Schiano's Presence Immediately Felt in Ohio State's Secondary

By Tim Shoemaker on September 13, 2016 at 8:35 am
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano meets with the media.

Greg Schiano had a simple response to the question.

Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach was asked Monday to explain the Buckeyes' seven interceptions on the season through just two games — a number tied for tops in the country — and his reply was hardly complex.

It wasn't about scheme. It wasn't about execution. No, Schiano broke it down into much simpler terms. 

"Really good players, that's what I chalk it up to," he said. "They love football, they work extremely hard in their preparation. I know I speak for Kerry [Coombs], we enjoy working with those four back there and when we get a chance to put a fifth on the field in the nickel we like that too."

It seems like it's a bit more complicated than that, though.

For one, the Buckeyes are playing more man-to-man coverage this year under Schiano than they did the last two seasons under former coordinator Chris Ash. Ohio State is allowing free safety Malik Hooker to roam in the secondary and make plays on the ball. The redshirt sophomore is taking full advantage of those opportunities.

The Buckeyes' back four also isn't missing chances to snag those interceptions. When they're getting their hands on the ball, they're catching it.

"Just going after the ball," redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. "It's just all off your instinct, really." 

Despite losing a trio of NFL players from last year's group, Ohio State's secondary seems to be playing a bit more instinctual through two games of this season. Perhaps that's because of players like Hooker, Lattimore and Damon Webb who rely a little bit more on instincts than Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple did or maybe they're being instructed by Schiano to trust their instincts more.

Implementing three new starters in a secondary can be a tall task. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer admitted Monday he had his concerns, but Ohio State's back four — led by Schiano and Coombs — has answered the call through the first two weeks.

"I was worried about it," Meyer said, "but Greg's a very good football coach and obviously Kerry Coombs is a very good coach and they've done a nice job."

The Buckeyes' challenge is much greater this weekend when they travel to take on 14th-ranked Oklahoma in a primetime showdown. The Sooners have more size, speed and overall athleticism than either of Ohio State's first two opponents. The Buckeyes are going to need their secondary to up its level of play another notch.

The back four was once a concern of Ohio State's — and perhaps the biggest on a long list entering the 2016 season — but it doesn't appear to be that way anymore. Not with the way the Buckeyes are playing at the back end and certainly not with the way they're being instructed by a former head coach at both the collegiate and NFL levels.

"Our job is just put them in a position to go play as hard as they can," Schiano said. "If we can simplify the scheme and still get done what we need to get done, that's our job."

So far, it's job well done.

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