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Published: Sunday, 9/9/2012

Buckeyes 'D' makes big plays

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins goes after Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins goes after Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles.
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COLUMBUS -- When members of Ohio State's defensive secondary drop a potential interception, they are required to drop and give coaches 50 pushups.

It was reasonable to assume senior safety Orhian Johnson would be exempt Saturday when a ball tipped off his hands and into the clutch of cornerback Travis Howard.

"No, I still got you on the pushups," Johnson said, smiling. "Don't worry about that. But since Trav caught it, I might do 25 instead of 50."

A staple Saturday in the nickel package, Johnson finished with six tackles, a pass break-up and a fourth-quarter interception -- the star of a suddenly big-play secondary in Ohio State's 31-16 win over Central Florida.

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While the Buckeyes' coverage was at times patchy, they intercepted three passes for the first time since 2009. Linebacker Etienne Sabino and Howard, who had two interceptions in the opener, pulled in passes from Knights quarterback Blake Bortles in the first half.

OSU now has five interceptions through two games after picking off just 13 throws last season -- a change players attribute to a more aggressive off-man coverage strategy and a changed mindset.

"We knew we were going to get around the ball," Johnson said. "But we wanted to make sure we made the play when we got there."

Meyer is especially is encouraged by Johnson, who began this season as a backup despite starting 15 games over his first three seasons. The first-year coach said he lobbied for Johnson to play more in the Buckeyes' nickel package.

"I see he's so talented," Meyer said. "But he's another guy that's been around here and the production hasn't been what it needs to be. He's earned that right in practice. He does some really good things for us on special teams, and we felt we needed more production out of the nickel spot."

ONWARD TO TOLEDO: In keeping with his much-publicized pledge when he took over as coach of the Buckeyes to be a better family man this time around, Meyer did not bask in the glow of Saturday's win over UCF for long.

A couple of hours after the game, Meyer and his wife Shelley took a flight from Columbus to Toledo so they could watch their daughter play volleyball in a tournament at UT. Meyer's daughter, Gigi, is a sophomore setter on the Florida Gulf Coast team.

NOISE A FACTOR: As the final seconds faded, the student section chanted, "Can you hear us?"

The tweak was aimed at Central Florida coach George O'Leary, who on his weekly radio show said Ohio Stadium was "not that loud." O'Leary, who had last coached at the stadium as an assistant at Syracuse in 1980, said he had no plans to prepare his team for the crowd noise.

Afterward, though, Bortles ate crow on his coach's behalf.

"[The noise] was definitely a factor," he said. "We had to switch to our silent count because the noise was such a huge issue. We had two false starts right from the beginning, so yes, the noise affected us."

WILLIAMS OUT: Nathan Williams may have played too much, too soon.

After the senior defensive end played 30 snaps in the opener last week, he watched Saturday's game in shorts. He said was he was sore afterward and was ruled out by the trainers.

"He was sore all week," Meyer said of Williams, who underwent microfracture knee surgery last fall. "He didn't practice. It's frustrating for him, frustrating for us. It's a tough injury."

Defensive end Michael Bennett, who was projected to start the opener, missed his second straight game with a strained groin.



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