COLUMBUS — Ohio State has two victories under its belt after Saturday’s 31-16 win over Central Florida, but in typical head-coach fashion, Urban Meyer was more than happy to discuss his team’s shortcomings, especially the Buckeyes’ pass defense.
“We have a long way to go,” Meyer said. “You’d think we’d have a little more pressure. I don’t know how good Central Florida’s offensive line is, but I think they played pretty well today.
“But we have got to pressure the quarterback. He had far too much time to throw the ball.”
Central Florida’s Blake Bortles completed 25 of 41 passes for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In a 56-10 win over Miami last weekend, RedHawks quarterback Zac Dysert completed 31 passes for 303 yards and a score.
The Buckeyes managed just three sacks against the pair.
“I’m a little surprised,” freshman defensive lineman Noah Spence said. “I feel like when we get into the game it’s easier to forget about our assignments sometimes. We just need to keep working, trying to get better every week.
“We haven’t lived up to our potential yet.”
Saving the Buckeyes from severe damage due to the air attacks has been the secondary. Senior cornerback Travis Howard had a pair of interceptions against Miami last week, and the Buckeyes added three more — one each from Howard, senior safety Orhian Johnson and senior linebacker Etienne Sabino — against the Knights. It was the first time Ohio State had three interceptions in a game since 2009 at Michigan.
“It’s better to bend, not break, but you’re not happy bending too much,” said Johnson, who also tipped the pass Howard intercepted. “The whole team steps onto the field with a chip on its shoulder, and we all have that hold-them mentality. We’ve been doing a great job at stopping the run, now we just have to find that happy balance.”
The performance was a welcome relief for Johnson, who has been criticized for his play. After the rough performance against the RedHawks, Johnson was brought in as the nickelback and saw plenty of action against Central Florida.
“I was very involved in that decision because I see he’s so talented,” Meyer said. “He’s one of those guys that’s been around here for awhile, but the production hasn’t been exactly what it needs to be.
“He earned that right in practice. He does some really good things for us on special teams, and we felt like we needed more production out of that nickel spot.”
Howard’s three interceptions in the first two games tie his career high for a season. He also had a pass breakup in the end zone, and finished with a pair of tackles.
“We thrive on being the best secondary (in the country),” said Howard, who battled stingers on the left side of his neck throughout the game. “I feel like we have better days in us.”
The three interceptions against Central Florida all came in crucial situations.
Howard’s came late in the second quarter with the score tied at 10 and two plays after Zach Boren fumbled the ball at midfield. Ohio State used the momentum of Howard’s pick to drive down the field in the final three minutes and score with 15 seconds left in the first half.
Sabino’s interception — the first of his career — came early in the third quarter after the Buckeyes had scored to make it 24-10. Sabino hauled in a Bortles pass at the UCF 34-yard line and Ohio State needed only three plays to make it 31-10 and really put the pressure on the Knights.
Johnson’s came early in the fourth quarter, after Central Florida has scored to make it 31-16 and were again knocking on the door.
Johnson intercepted Bortles’ pass at the OSU 5, knocking the wind out of the Knights.
“It was great to force a turnover in the red zone,” Johnson said. “That’s the stuff you look for because you don’t want to be down there too much.”
Johnson said he was happier with the tipped pass that led to Howard’s interception than he was of his own. Not that he plans on helping his teammate keep the team lead.
“Trav got two last game and had one this game … so maybe he’s slowing down,” Johnson said. “Maybe now I’ll have the chance to catch up.”
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