The Buckeyes' Silver Bullet defense intercepted Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris four times, a quartet of big plays that mattered mightily as the Buckeyes captured a 36-24 victory.
"You could look at last year's games and look at Chimdi (Chekwa) – what was it, two picks he had? – and just turnovers he had and how that affected Miami, how it affected the entire game," OSU nickel back Tyler Moeller said. "Every week we look at the turnover battle and you can see every single week, if you lost the turnover battle you usually lost the game. So turnovers are one of the biggest parts of football."
Ohio State's defense forced only one turnover in each of those contests, with linebacker Andrew Sweat pulling in an interception in the win against the Zips and Storm Klein doing the same in the close victory against the Rockets.
Coming up with more turnovers – such as those picks Harris tossed a year ago– would go a long way in helping the Buckeyes survive their first road test of the year Saturday night at Miami.
Just don't expect Ohio State's defense to go overboard in emphasizing that in practice.
"I tell you, it is kind of weird to me," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "All the time I've been coaching, there's been so many times where we've said, ‘OK, we're gonna go into this season and we're all going to work on getting turnovers.' We'll do the circuits and strip tackles and interceptions and do all those drills and work our butts off and say, ‘By golly, we're going to be good.' And then we're not that good.
"Then you go out and you just practice don't say anything about it, then all of a sudden you start getting interceptions and turnovers and those things just happen."
In other words, you can't force turnovers – you just have to force them.
But in all seriousness, coaches do know that turnovers can be fickle. As the Miami game a year ago showed, sometimes one turnover can turn the spigot and lead to more.
"Sometimes they come in bunches, and you know, we need to just find that bunch," head coach Luke Fickell said. "It's something that we thrive on defensively and just haven't got as many as we need to get."
However, as Fickell points out, "Sometimes you'll do things that you overemphasize and sometimes you'll start missing more tackles. We will just continue to do what we do and keep talking about it and harping on it and we have those opportunities, because you look back in the game and there are some opportunities for us to get a few more. We just have to make sure we get those plays."
Heacock had the same idea, pointing to a few missed opportunities the Buckeyes had in the frist two games. For example, Akron had a fumble on the first drive of the year but the Buckeyes couldn't come up with the loose ball. Against Toledo, Bradley Roby was inches from a juggling interception along the OSU sideline but couldn't quite haul in the pass before landing out of bounds.
Part of the trouble could be the youth of the Ohio State defense. Last year's veteran unit produced 30 turnovers in 13 games, an average of 2.3 per game, but lost five All-Big Ten players to graduation in the offseason.
Among those players gone is Chekwa, who led the team a year ago by taking part in five turnovers. On the other side of the field, corner Devon Torrence had a hand in four takeaways, while graduated linebackers Ross Homan (four) and Brian Rolle (three) were also big-play machines.
In addition, defensive end Nathan Williams was in on four turnovers last year but is out for a few weeks with a leg injury, while cornerback Travis Howard – who was suspended for the first two games but returns vs. Miami – was part of three turnovers a year ago.
Then there's Moeller, who was in on three turnovers in four games last year before a season-ending injury. This year, he hasn't been in on a change of possession.
"It's very frustrating when you go into the film (room) the next day and don't see many production points your way," Moeller said. "So that is very frustrating as a player, and as a defense we know we have to get turnovers if we want to win games. We know that we need to do a better job of stripping the ball and making plays. When they come your way, make a play."
Oftentimes, that's all it comes down to – a guy in the right place at the right time with just the right hit or right luck. And in football, they say sometimes you make your own luck, and that starts with the way you go about your business, Heacock said.
"Just keep working hard and hopefully they'll start to come," he said.