The Ohio State defense gained another five-star talent and five-star personality last week with the season debut of Jonathon Cooper.
A senior defensive end from Gahanna Lincoln High School east of Columbus, Cooper missed the first four games with a severely sprained left ankle before starting Ohio State’s 48-7 win at Nebraska last Saturday.
Although he made only one tackle, Cooper was relieved to get back on the field.
“It was tough, but I’m here mentally and just happy I even had a chance to run out there with my team,” he said Wednesday night.
Although he was chosen as one of Ohio State’s seven captains before the season, he felt he was limited as a leader until he was actually able to play.
“It’s definitely different because you want to be out there and your teammates want to see you out there putting in the same work as them,” he said. “To be the leader I want to be I want to make sure I’m in the fire, in the game with my teammates.”
Although the 6-foot-4, 257-pound senior always brings a 1,000-watt smile to the interview room, he admitted staying positive was hard during his rehab, particularly with his last chance to impress NFL scouts dwindling week by week.
“I think you guys know I’m a happy guy — I like to have fun — but every day I tried to stay positive, find a bright side,” he said. “Like one day I couldn’t walk and the next day I could. One day I could do this with my foot and the next day I could do that, so it’s just finding the little small victories.”
Even without Cooper, the Ohio State front has enjoyed a strong start to the season.
The Buckeyes lead the action with 52 tackles for loss, and their 24 sacks are tied with Pittsburgh and Florida for No. 2 behind SMU.
The defensive line has contributed 19 of the sacks and 44 of the TFLs, and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley said the front should get an assist on some of the team’s seven interceptions and 18 pass break-ups, too.
“When you have a really good front that really rushes the quarterback really well, you’re gonna get interceptions because when you guys watch when the quarterback hits his back step, if he can’t step up then we’re gonna have a really good day,” Hafley said. “Because then the ball is gonna come out, guys aren’t even going to be out in their routes yet, and we’re going to force bad throws. We’re gonna force tips and overthrows, which your linebackers and DBs will hopefully get some picks. You’re gonna force bad decisions, and you’re going to hopefully sack the quarterback.”
Chase Young leads the nation with eight sacks while six other Buckeye defensive linemen have gotten to the quarterback so far.
They are all able to stay fresh as coach Larry Johnson has maintained a rotation of 8-10 even before getting some extra players on the field in garbage time.
“Every good team I’ve been around, every good defense starts up front,” Hafley said. “Stopping the run, rushing the quarterback, rush and coverage tie-in and that’s so important.”
Along with the secondary, the linebackers have been part of an Oho State defensive renaissance this season with Baron Browning perhaps best representing how far the group has come as a whole.
A five-star talent from Texas, Browning looked lost most of the time he was on the field last season, but the junior is enjoying a strong first half of the season while sharing snaps at middle linebacker with Tuf Borland, a junior captain and two-year starter.
After logging a career-high event tackles at Nebraska, Browning is third on the them with 21 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks.
He said most of his improvement has been mental, and he credited first-year linebackers coach Al Washington with that.
“I think just playing, being more calm and just playing my game,” he said when asked what had changed for him this season. “One thing that I was really trying to focus on getting better was using my hands. So listening to coach Washington helped me get better with all that.”
Tickets still available
As of Thursday afternoon, Ohio State still had tickets available for Saturday’s visit from Michigan State as well as the rest of the remaining home games.
Through the Ohio State ticket office or Ticketmaster, the minimim price for a reserved seat to the MSU game is $147.
For Wisconsin (Oct. 26) it is $170 while Penn State (Nov. 23) is the most expensive at $198.
The Maryland ticket (Nov. 9) is the cheapest of the Big Ten games by far at $92.
Ohio State is averaging 103,502 fans per game so far this season, up from 101,947 last season.
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