"There’s so many bad things going on in the world that you can get sad about. There aren’t enough good things. If I can get you to laugh one time, I’ve done my job for the day. That’s how I live my life."
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, describes him as a clown. His childhood friend says that he has only gotten sillier with age. And his mother still laughs about the time he brought water from the toilet for his grandmother to drink.
Redshirt junior Tyvis Powell, a safety from Bedford High School near Cleveland, has made headlines for his hilarious antics on Twitter, at press conferences and particularly with roommate Cardale Jones. And while he may be a clown, his teammates still see him as one of their leaders, most notably on defense.
Powell was recently voted in as captain by his teammates, one of six Buckeye captains for this upcoming season. He also won defensive MVP for the College Football Playoff national championship game to close out last season, recording five solo tackles in the effort. Two of his most famous interceptions came against Michigan in 2013, when the Wolverines attempted a two-point conversion to win in the final seconds of the game, and in the end zone at the close of last year’s Sugar Bowl against Alabama, effectively sealing Ohio State’s victory.
While most people still recognize Powell for his big personality, he has managed to lock it up when he needs to, including off the field, with impressive results. Powell graduated in May from Ohio State in just three-and-a-half years with a degree in marketing. In high school, he had a perfect attendance record. That effort has enabled Powell to become a better football player, showing up to the weight room at his high school at 5 a.m. every day, with the goal of earning a scholarship at the next level. That relentless drive has continued in his time at Ohio State. And all joking aside, Powell has managed to control his big personality, becoming both a strong and entertaining leader on and off the field.
"Elliott is one of the most gifted tailbacks in the nation, but he is always the first to admit that he can’t change a game by himself."
Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott may be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy in 2015, in light of his prolific post-season run against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to close out last season, but last year against Virginia Tech, Elliott was held to just 32 yards on eight carries, scoring one touchdown in the process. To make matters worse, 15 of those yards came in Elliott’s longest carry. In just his second career start, Elliott was effectively stuffed by Virginia Tech’s linebackers, including Deon Clarke and Chase Williams who combined for 17 tackles on the night—only two of those tackles coming on passing downs.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, again in just his second start after the injury to Braxton Miller in the preseason, rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in the game, but took seven sacks for a total loss of 50 yards. In all, the Buckeyes averaged 2.7 yards per rush against Virginia Tech—its lowest average in 2014.
This year, however, the Buckeyes have a shored up offensive line. In last year’s matchup, the group collectively had only twenty combined starts, including 14 by Taylor Decker. This year, the Buckeyes are replacing just one lineman, as Chase Farris replaces Darryl Baldwin at right tackle. Elliott also improved as the season went on, meshing with the line and finishing the season with more than 1,800 yards on the ground. Further, while Virginia Tech’s defense is loaded with talent, its linebacking core is facing some rebuilding with the loss of Williams, who is now replaced by sophomore Andrew Motuapuaka. Overall, the Buckeyes will not be facing the same critical questions as they did this time last year, such as developing a very young team that had lost almost 90 percent of its offensive production from the year before.
"That’s what they want. They want to be feared as a unit. They’d rather talk about The Difference than a guy who could make a difference."
In Ohio State’s 15th game last season—the College Football Playoff national championship game against Oregon—it finally clicked, as linebacker Darron Lee made what defensive coordinator Chris Ash refers to as "The Difference." And that’s the first thing that the Buckeye’s defense learned this year, in the first practice of fall camp. The Difference, in essence, is getting defenders to have good hand position to deliver an aggressive blow to allow them to reach their targets.
Lee managed just that in the championship game, taking down Oregon tight end Evan Baylis, who is four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Lee, on his way to making a tackle—all because Lee had the correct positioning. Lee, who played quarterback in high school, bought into Ash’s scheme, learning the proper technique and discipline to tackle. Ash also instituted rugby-style tackling to remove the head and neck from the equation. The rest of the team has been picking up The Difference as well, improving from the team that lost to Virginia Tech last year to the one that shutout Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game last season. Now, they have been working on it every practice during camp, and Ash expects the defense to be close to what fans saw against Oregon last season. The Buckeyes finished the 2014 season ranked 19th in total defense, but Ash expects the Silver Bullets to play at a consistently higher level throughout the upcoming season.
Lee says that the defense hit a turning point when quarterback J.T. Barrett injured his ankle against Michigan at the end of the regular season, feeling that the fate of the season rested on the defensive units to finish strong. Without knowing what Cardale Jones could do at quarterback, the defense stepped up to make The Difference—much to the chagrin of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.
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