Ohanaja's play more instinctive, less 'robotic'

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt safety Kelechi Ohanaja has recorded more tackles in one game than any other player in the Southeastern Conference in 2004-- not that he's necessarily happy about that. <p> <I>Vanderibilt (0-1) visits Ole Miss (0-2) Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (Jefferson-Pilot TV, 104.5 The Zone).

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt safety Kelechi Ohanaja has recorded more tackles in one game than any other player in the Southeastern Conference in 2004.

Not that he's necessarily happy about it.

"Any time a free safety makes 18 tackles, that is not a good sign," said Ohanaja, whose total of 18 against South Carolina is three more than LSU's Lionel Turner, who has the second most. "That is something we really don't want. That is a sign that the running backs are getting into the secondary."

Kelechi Ohanaja (12) led the defense in tackles vs. South Carolina with 18. (Neil Brake / VUAD)
South Carolina's running backs indeed found their way into the Vanderbilt secondary repeatedly during Vanderbilt's season-opening 31-6 loss, but more often than not, Ohanaja was there to clean up whatever mistakes occurred in front of him.

"He's a great safety," said fellow safety Andrew Pace. "He helps us out where ever we need it. He knows what it takes out there to produce."

Ohanaja's second-highest tackle game in his career came against Navy, when he recorded 13 in another Vanderbilt disappointment. The Commodores lost 37-27 as the versatile Navy rushing attack burst through the Commodore defense-– until it reached Ohanaja.

The junior from Arlington, Tex., has developed his game this year in his second year as a starter. Head coach Bobby Johnson praised Ohanaja not only for putting a good game together against South Carolina, but also for playing "less robotic."

"I agree with that assessment totally," Ohanaja said. "Last year was my first year starting, and I took what the coaches said very literally instead of using my athletic ability to make a play. If the coaches told me I had the pitch man on the option, I would forget about the quarterback and just concentrate on my assignment.

"Now, if I see the quarterback with the ball, I'll try to go after him and make a play when I know he's not going to pitch it."

Ohanaja is part of a secondary that is returning all four starters from a year ago. Corners Bill Alford and Dominique Morris join Pace and Ohanaja as one of the most experienced units in the SEC. Communication, Ohanaja said, is key for this group, which will lose only Alford for 2005.

"The informal communication is much better," Ohanaja said. "It is hard to explain. We know what to expect from each other because we played together so much. Experience is something you can't coach."

Many of the Commodores said the South Carolina game was not the make-or-break game for the season some were making it out to be prior to kickoff. With the 31-6 loss on the books, this week's game against Ole Miss (11:30 a.m. Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.) offers the squad a chance to prove just that.

"One of the best things about last week is we still have 10 games to play," Ohanaja said. "We still have a chance to show everybody what we are capable of. I know we are capable of playing a lot better than we did. We know we are still a good team."


Bill Trocchi is Interactive Editor for Athlon Sports.

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