COLUMBUS — Everything pointed to the defensive backfield being a question mark for Ohio State early this football season.
But it appears everything was wrong about that.
Two games into the season, things look just fine in OSU’s defensive backfield. No complaints. No questions.
When the Buckeyes picked off four passes in a 48-3 win over Tulsa on Saturday it gave them seven in two games, all by defensive backs. More importantly, Ohio State’s defense hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in wins over Bowling Green and Tulsa.
There were solid reasons for some uncertainty about Ohio State’s pass defense going into the season.
Cornerback Eli Apple and safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell all left early for the NFL after last season.
Cornerback Gareon Conley was the Buckeyes’ only returning starter. In this season’s first two games, sophomore Marshon Lattimore has started at the other cornerback spot and sophomore Malik Hooker and junior Damon Webb have been the starting safeties.
Apple, a first-round choice of the New York Giants; Bell, a second-round pick by the New Orleans Saints; and Powell, who signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, all are on NFL rosters.
But in one very important part of a defensive back’s job description, this year’s starters have been more productive than those future pros were last year.
In the first two games this season, Ohio State’s defensive backs have had seven interceptions – three by Hooker, two by Lattimore, one by Conley and one by back-up Rodjay Burns. Three of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, including one by Hooker and one by Lattimore on Saturday.
In 13 games last season, OSU’s defensive backs had eight interceptions, led by Powell with three. As a team the Buckeyes had 12.
“I definitely think we’re playing really well now. But we can’t just keep talking about this. We definitely have to get better,” Hooker said.
Lattimore’s interceptions were the continuation of a season of good things for a player who hadn’t had a lot of them in his college career before this season.
His first two years were dominated by a chronic hamstring condition. At times there was some doubt he would ever be able to play at Ohio State.
“When Marshon got the pick (for the touchdown) I was so happy for him with what he’s gone through since he got here with a lot of injuries and disappointment,” Hooker said.
Conley, the only returning starter, said OSU’s young defensive backs “have something to prove.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer says the new defensive backs “really took to coaching” after paying their dues behind Apple, Bell and Powell.
“But they’re also very talented guys,” he said. “Our defense is playing so well right now.”
And probably no part of it is playing better than the defensive backfield.