Secondary Graded Well After OSU Opener

Sixty minutes of tape are in, and it appears the Ohio State defensive backs are showing signs of improvement. Despite a few early issues defending the pass against Miami (Ohio), three members of the OSU secondary graded out with winning performances when the coaches went back and checked. That's a good sign for a unit that needed to make a step.

When Urban Meyer showed up for his weekly call-in radio show last Thursday, he told Ohio State fans across the state that he was worried about how his pass defense would fare against Miami's pass-heavy attack.

Fifteen minutes of game play and 165 passing yards later, it seemed like he had a point.

But what a difference 48 hours can make. After Ohio State put together a credible showing against Miami's quarterback Zac Dysert over the last three quarters on the way to a 56-10 romp in Meyer's debut Saturday, the coach said that three members of his starting secondary – corners Bradley Roby and Travis Howard and safety Christian Bryant – were the only members of his defense to grade out as members of his champions club against the RedHawks.

"That's always a positive," Bryant said Monday. "We want to be the best in the nation. Having three defensive backs being champions in a game on Saturday, that shows a lot."

Bryant might have had the most impressive of the performances. He finished with five tackles in the official stats and wasn't on the sheet for having a hand in any turnovers, but the coaching staff was clearly pleased with the effort out of the junior from Cleveland Glenville.

Meyer said that Bryant graded out with a 96 percent, including an excellent 88 percent on plays at the point of attack. The coaching staff had him with seven tackles, one assist, one extra effort and 17 production points.

That was a good start for Bryant, who said he was simply average a year ago as a first-year starter with sophomore eligibility. As a result, he spent much of his offseason working to get better, especially when it came to playing under control and tackling better.

"Coach Withers just told me I played well (Saturday)," Bryant said. "He just said from last year, I'm a way better tackler than he saw on film. That's what I was trying to do this offseason was get mentally stronger, just get in the film room more and read coverages better and be a smarter player overall."

Ohio State also got solid performances out of both cornerbacks. Howard stole the show with two interceptions, and Meyer said he graded out to 90 percent.

Count Howard among those in the secondary who felt he needed to improve after a disappointing 2011. Meyer has talked of how Howard needed to be pushed to live up to his talent level, something the Miami native didn't dispute.

"I just wanted to come out here and compete," he said after the game. "I felt like last year I didn't give it my all and didn't put a lot in to it, but the coaching staff this year helped me out and made me compete a lot and pushed me. My whole mind-set is different, and I wanted to come out here and show Ohio State and the fans what I'm capable of doing."

While Howard's two interceptions stood out, Roby also turned in a solid day's work that earned him defensive player of the week honors. Meyer was clearly impressed.

"What we do on the defensive backs is (count) how many opportunities you have to make a play, and he had an incredible amount, 30 opportunities to make a play," Meyer said. "In that kind of game where they throw all over the place, he was 25 of 30 for 83 percent.

"Any time a defensive back has an opportunity to make a play, that is a much more significant grade than an inside run. So he was 83 percent, very good. Five tackles, one assist, three passes broken up, and one fumble recovery."

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was also happy to see what Roby – who also chased down a receiver from behind to prevent a touchdown – did despite not being targeted very often on the day.

"You maybe didn't hear his name called as much because he didn't have the interceptions, but when you're disciplined in what you do, if you do what we ask you to do, you might not make a ton of plays sometimes over there," Fickell said. "But you know you have to do your job because if those guys don't do their job it ends up being a big play. That's something we can't lose sight of. Those guys can get frustrated, but he did a great job."

There are still areas that need to be smoothed over, of course, after Dysert finished with 303 passing yards. Miami got into scoring position for the first time on the day when its top player, wideout Nick Harwell, got open down the left sideline for a 42-yard pass. Bryant said the Buckeyes had a miscommunication in their cover-3 defense that allowed one third of the field to be open.

In addition, there was another long pass, this one a 58-yarder to Dawan Scott that got Miami inside the 10, that led to a field goal. On that one, Scott ran a post and Barnett missed the tackle.

Mistakes like those were all too common a season ago, as communication and tackling issues popped up just enough to hurt OSU on the way to a 6-7 season. This season, the goal is to eliminate as many of those as possible. The last three quarters of the Miami, then, were a good start.

"I feel we could have played better, especially in the first quarter," Bryant said. "We let a lot of big plays slip out of our hands, but we talk about being the best in the nation each and every day. I don't feel like we showed that Saturday as a whole defense, but we just have to come back this weekend and practice and get back to it."

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