COLUMBUS — All around us, there is an excess of emphasis on security. There are security clearances, security cameras, security gates, and security breaches. Social security, airport security, homeland security, and national security are all regular parts of the vernacular.
The security is subtle but adequate at the Woody Hayes Center, the Fort Knox of Ohio State's football operation. But what the folks working and training inside the spacious facility are preoccupied with is something with very limited outside application — ball security.
That means holding on to the football when you have it, which is a primal ordinance of the game in the vision of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel — no interceptions, no fumbles.
Practice sound ball security, and you will play for Tressel. Be reckless and allow that security to be breached, and you could find yourself taking correspondence courses from Pioneer or Martins Ferry.
“It is very important that we are smart with what we do, and that we don't turn over the football,” Tressel said as the Buckeyes prepared for the 2010 season. “Throwing interceptions or putting the ball on the ground — there's very little that happens that can change the game as quickly and as dramatically.”
The troops are fully indoctrinated with this Tressel commandment. Through two games, the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes have not turned the ball over — no fumbles, no interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said the ball security edict is hammered home at every opportunity by both Tressel, and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
“As an offense, we never hear the end of, ‘Don't turn the ball over.' It's at the start of every unit meeting we have,” Sanzenbacher said. “Every time we get together before the game, the first thing coach Bollman says is, ‘What do we have to do to not turn the ball over?' So, I think when you have it ingrained into you so much, you don't forget.”
Sanzenbacher said familiarity also helps the Buckeyes keep possession of the football. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Sanzenbacher and fellow wide receiver DeVier Posey are in their third season as key parts of the offense.
“We've all been together for three years now, so there is definitely a lot of chemistry,” said Sanzenbacher, who is averaging 25 yards per reception with six catches this season.
“I think each of us knows what to expect from the other, which cuts down on interceptions.”
Posey, who had eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's wins over Marshall and Miami, said Pryor and the OSU receivers have developed a confidence in each other to keep the ball in their care, custody, and control.
“I want to save his stats and have them look as good as they can,” Posey said about Pryor, who threw 11 interceptions last season but has none this year and just two in his last seven games.
“As far as having trust in someone, I think that's how you do it.”
The second half of the ball security philosophy calls for taking it away from the opposition.
The Buckeyes have been the best in the nation at making both principles work in this young season. Ohio State leads the country in turnover margin at plus-3.5, since they have forced seven in two games.
“We expect to do that — to have guys swarm to the ball every play and create turnovers,” senior linebacker Ross Homan said after the Buckeyes forced four Miami turnovers in a 36-24 victory. “We feel like every turnover we create can make a big difference in the game, so that's an important part of playing great defense, taking the ball away.”
Tressel did not need to look far to find an impressive example of his ball security mantra at work. Ohio University, the Buckeyes' opponent this weekend, twice turned the ball over deep in its own territory against Toledo last Saturday, and the Rockets converted both errors into touchdowns that made the difference in a 20-13 Toledo win over the Bobcats.
“They had a couple mistakes that cost them in a conference game last weekend and when that happens, that disappoints you, and usually that makes the tough teams tougher,” Tressel said.
Contact Matt Markey at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6510.