Same Team, Different Workloads

At the halfway point of the 2009 season, the Ohio State defense has made the game look easy at times while the offense has had its share of struggles. As it turns out, there might be a reason -- and it has to do with how much each side of the ball is being tasked with learning.

Entering the 2009 season, Ohio State had to replace twice as many players who had started eight or more games on offense (eight) than they did on defense (four).

This year, players on one side of the ball have had to deal with a workload at its highest point during the past four years by one account. Conversely, Buckeyes on the other side of the ball have been tasked with simply pinning their ears back and trying to make plays.

Which side of the ball is which might be a surprise.

"For the offense, having been here for four years we have 100-some plays on the play call, which I've never seen since I've been here," senior wide receiver/returner Ray Small said.

In past years, the total was closer to 60, Small said.

Conversely, the defensive side of the ball is dealing with a smaller playbook than in years past with an emphasis on making plays without getting bogged down in technique.

"In years past we have maybe a little more stuff in and we couldn't react as fast as we wanted to, but this year we're playing confident and relaxed and just trying to do our job," junior linebacker Ross Homan said.

According to senior captain and safety Kurt Coleman, the idea of simplifying things for the defense first came up when the upperclassmen on the defense sat down with the defensive coaches for traditional offseason meetings.

The idea was discussed during the winter, experimented with in the spring and implemented during the fall.

"It allows the linebackers and the safeties to just fly," Coleman said. "The past few years we've had so many technicalities. This year it's like, ‘This, go.' It's just line up and roam."

Asked for an example, Coleman said the team's linebackers are allowed to pursue the ball with more aggression without necessarily worrying about who might be behind them.

"This year it's like, ‘You can go and the safety will clean you up,' " Coleman said. "That's how we're playing."

The results so far speak for themselves. The OSU defense ranks seventh in the nation in scoring (12.00) and is in the top 15 in total defense (271.83, No. 11 in the nation), rushing defense (89.17, No. 12), sacks (3.00, No. 12) and pass efficiency defense (97.56, No. 15) at the halfway point of the season.

The Buckeyes even began some simplification last season with the likes of seniors James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman on the team. When a reporter pointed out that Laurinaitis in particular looked to play more confident as the year went on, Coleman said there was a reason for that.

"Toward the end of the year, our plays that we called and the plays that we put in pregame were definitely getting closer to basic plays," the captain said. "At the beginning of the year we put a lot of plays in, so that might be what you saw. I think he did a great job of flying all year though.

On the other side of the ball, things have not gone quite as well – at least through the air. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 86 in total offense (338.3 yards per game), No. 63 in passing efficiency (129.55) and No. 108 in passing offense (166.2 yards per game).

Too much information can weigh down a young player, Small said.

"It's probably one of the reasons why you haven't seen everybody on the field," he said. "As a young guy, that's usually the problem. It's not the talent because everybody at Ohio State obviously has talent. A couple years from now you'll see Lamaar Thomas and guys like that out on the field."

Junior tailback Brandon Saine said the extra workload has not slowed down freshman running Jordan Hall.

"The thing about him in particular is he learned really fast," Saine said. "I don't think it's any problem for him at all. When he gets out there he's able to play and play fast because he knows what he's doing."

Regardless of experience, Saine downplayed the thought that information overload has anything to do with the offense's struggles thanks to a helpful reminder.

"We have a big wristband with lots of plays on it, so if you forget something you can look down and refresh your memory a little bit," he said with a laugh.


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