Ohio State, at no. 10, is the lowest ranked one-loss, Power 5 team in the College Football Playoff standings. In the eyes of the committee, there are several things lacking when it comes to the Buckeyes. A bulldozing run game and the ability to tackle in space are two obvious examples.
But OSU players speak of something less obvious.
“I feel like in practice, we’re having more fun,” said defensive lineman Davon Hamilton. “That’s what I feel like was missing a little bit.”
Coaches and team leaders apparently agreed, and in recent position group meetings, players were encouraged to lighten up and celebrate.
How could that impact their on-field performance, though?
“This team, we struggled a lot a few weeks ago with energy,” explained linebacker Pete Werner, “guys making plays, but not showing energy to the ball. We need to start doing that. We need to start coming together as a defense, kind of uniting together and having energy when people make plays and having a little swagger to the defense.”
The defense’s effort to infuse their play with more spirit and to build cohesion by enjoying themselves hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Most definitely,” agreed center Michael Jordan. “Defense has been going a little wild in practice.”
However, it’s not just the defense.
Offensive lineman Demetrius Knox said they, too, were given permission to demonstrate more joie de vivre, especially this week, as the Buckeyes get ready to face Michigan State.
“This part of the year, it’s Big Ten football,” he said, “You’ve got to put your hand in the dirt. You’ve got to run the ball, and for an o-lineman to have your coach look at you and be like, ‘This game is on y’all, the o-line,’ that’s exciting. You’ve got to get hyped for that.”
Indeed, there has been a sign flashing over their indoor practice field this week reminding them that “The Toughest Team Will Win This Game.” Being tough, though, doesn’t mean you can’t revel in what you’re doing.
“I’d say it’s exciting when people doubt you. Like the doubt that we have coming towards our program? We love that,” Knox said. “When people have a little bit of doubt towards you, it’s beautiful. Get to prove you wrong.”
(You can follow Lori Schmidt on Twitter @LoriSchmidt)
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