Getting Defensive: Buckeyes Prepare For RedHawks

Miami will bring a high-powered offense to Columbus Saturday. Ohio State is expected to have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten this season and the RedHawks -- led by senior quarterback Josh Betts -- will provide a good measuring stick. We have comments from OSU's A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, Nate Salley and Donte Whitner on the matchup.

Miami University's offense will provide a solid test for Ohio State's defense in the season opener on Saturday.

The RedHawks are experienced, talented and somewhat balanced offensively.

Last season, they finished ranked No. 34 in the country in total offense with 399.7 yards per game. They ranked 11th nationally in passing (279.6) and 91st in rushing (120.1).

Ohio State fans are already talking about the week two matchup with Texas, but the Buckeye players say they are completely focused on Miami.

"It's easy for us not to look ahead," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Since we started conditioning last year, we thought about Sept. 3 and our first game against Miami. And we've watched them on film enough and we see how talented they are and we know we can't overlook them."

Hawk expects OSU's defense to be more aggressive this season, but he does not foresee any major changes under first-year coordinator Jim Heacock.

"I don't think too much is going to change as a defense," he said. "I think we're going to try and keep it simple and make sure what we do we're great at. We're not going to try a million different things just average. We're going to try and be great at what we do. So, I don't think it's going to get too complicated. We're going to be basic, attack the other team and really put pressure on quarterbacks."

Miami quarterback Josh Betts (6-3, 223, Sr.) is one of the top signal-callers in the Mid-American Conference. He took over for Ben Roethlisberger as the RedHawks' starter last season and turned in a very good season. He finished the year with 3,495 passing yards (60.4 percent completion percentage), 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

"Josh is a great player," Hawk said. "He's got a big arm, he can throw the ball, and he's pretty mobile, which I don't think many people give him credit for, but he is. He's obviously a very smart guy as well to run that offense. It's a complicated offense that they have. It's going to be a big challenge for us. He came in replacing Ben Roethlisberger and did a great job last year throwing for 3,000 yards. So, obviously he's not a joke. He's a great player and we'll have to take it seriously."

Ohio State junior safety Donte Whitner knows that Miami is a dangerous team. He has a lot of respect for their offensive personnel.

"I know that they want to come into Ohio Stadium and shock the world," Whitner said. "You know, upset our season and stuff like that. But playing an in-state school like Miami of Ohio, they are a good team. They contend for the MAC championship every year and they've had good players come out of the program like (Ben) Roethlisberger and guys like that. So, when you go out there and play Miami, you don't just want to win, you want to win big. You want to play good, defense, offense, special teams.

"But it's not going to be easy because Miami has good players and a good team. They have two of the best receivers in the country (Ryne Robinson, Martin Nance). They have a tailback (Brandon Murphy) that I would wake up on Friday mornings when I was in high school and I would hear about him running for 330 yards, 350, five touchdowns. He's small, but he can play football."

Murphy (5-8, 188, So.) backed up Luke Clemens last year at tailback, but still rushed for 248 yards and four touchdowns and averaged a team-best 5.2 yards per carry.

At receiver, Robinson (5-10, 171, Jr.) is one of the most explosive players in the MAC. Last year, he had 64 receptions for 932 yards (14.6) and four touchdowns. He's also an excellent punt returner.

Nance (6-5, 211, Sr.) is a good compliment to the speedy Robinson. Last season, Nance had 25 catches for 337 yards (13.5) and one score.

"They have very good receivers and their entire offense is disciplined," OSU safety Nate Salley said. "They catch guys sleeping and like to run some jailbreaks (screens). They're very smart offensively and the quarterback makes good decisions and has a pretty strong arm. I think they will come in here ready to play and we'll have to have our ‘A' game on."

Miami's offense shouldn't look too much different this season. They have a first-year head coach in Shane Montgomery, but he was the team's offensive coordinator the previous four seasons.

The RedHawks are known as a spread passing team, but OSU linebacker Anthony Schlegel says they also have a productive running game.

"They've got a great inside game," Schlegel said. "They're only a one-back team all the time, but what they do, they do well. They're a zone team. They have some experience back on the offensive line – everyone is back. They are a very good run team."

Four of five offensive linemen are returning starters for Miami. It also returns its starting tight end (Dan Tyler).

"They have a great offense and you can't forget about their offensive line too," Hawk said. "They're a physical front and they get after you. We've seen a lot of film on them and have an idea of how they might attack, but obviously this year with a new coach they might change it up. Coach Montgomery was their (offensive coordinator) and he really knows how to attack a defense. He has a great understanding of what an offense needs to do and puts his guys in situations to do good. That's really what I think they do. They'll exploit your weaknesses. Miami has been doing that for years now with him."

Ohio State has a veteran defense with seven seniors and four juniors in the starting lineup. But the Buckeyes are also expected to play a lot of young players on Saturday. Sophomore linebackers Marcus Freeman and Chad Hoobler continue to receive rave reviews. And junior John Kerr has also worked his way into the mix.

"I think they've played and progressed really well," Hawk said of the understudies at linebacker. "Anyone who watched the spring game saw how well Chad Hoobler played. That's what Chad does best. I think in a game-type situation, he's just a player and we have a lot of respect for that.

"And obviously John Kerr has been doing it here for a while. He's been playing well and it's a good opportunity for both of them. It helps that John has been in the system here for a while and has an idea of what's going on. And he's obviously played in the Big Ten already at Indiana, so we know he can play. That helps out having so much depth."

In the secondary, there is a pair of true freshmen on OSU's two-deep: cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and safety/nickeback Jamario O'Neal.

"They're pretty good," Salley said. "I remember the first time I saw Malcolm Jenkins in 7-on-7's, I was like, ‘He's going to be a pretty good player.' He has good size and he's fast.

"And Jamario, he has good size also. He flies around and hits people. He's very physical and I believe that's why they moved him to safety. He's a physical guy.

"Both guys are coming in and playing ball and having fun. Trying to learn the schemes and everything, but I believe they're coming along."

Some have already said that Jenkins could be the next great corner at OSU.

"I would say he is," Whitner said. "He's a big corner with long arms. And he has speed – he can run. He can tackle. So, yes, he should be. If he keeps improving and progressing, he should be."

It's difficult for true freshmen to pick up OSU's defensive scheme. But Jenkins and O'Neal are improving in terms of the mental side of the game.

"Well, they were very far behind coming into camp," Whitner said. "And with the mental part of it, they are still behind. Physically, they look good. But the coaches aren't really asking them to know everything. Just some situations. Nickel. The cornerback is easier than what Jamario is doing. He's playing safety and at safety you have to know what the corners are doing and the linebackers are doing and what you're doing so you can get people lined up. So, really, Malcolm can go out there and play without really knowing everything. But, Jamario has to know everything to play safety."

One major key to having a good defense is being a good tackling team. The Buckeyes struggled with missed tackles at times last season and Schlegel wants those days to be a thing of the past.

"That's just basics," he said. "You're always talking about tackling, causing turnovers and that's something that we've all worked on. That's something you can always get better at and I think the intensity at practice has really helped our tackling."

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