COLUMBUS — It started with Rodjay Burns and who knows where it will stop? Ohio State hopes it doesn’t.
When Burns, a seldom-used freshman defensive back, returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown for Ohio State in the final minutes of a 77-10 win over Bowling Green in it’s opener, it was the beginning of a record-setting season for the Buckeyes defense.
Since then, Ohio State has returned five more interceptions for touchdowns, including two in a 62-3 win over Nebraska last Saturday night.
The first of those two last Saturday broke the school record for touchdowns on interceptions, which was four.
This year’s team has taken six of the 14 interceptions it has to the end zone. Defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker each had one against Tulsa. Linebacker Jerome Baker returned one 68 yards for a score against Oklahoma, and Damon Webb and Hooker scored after picks against Nebraska.
Hooker, who has five of OSU’s interceptions this season, nearly scored a third time. But a questionable blocking below the waist penalty cost him the TD.
When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was asked about all the scoring after interceptions on Monday at his weekly press conference and again on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday, the first thing he talked about was how well OSU blocks after it gets an interception.
“Our guys are so well trained and they believe in our staff so much. Every staff says go get a hat on somebody, but our guys have taken it to a new level. Both interceptions (against Nebraska) were great examples,” Meyer said. “Guys turned like their hair was on fire to go get blocks and they were escorted to the end zone.
“We certainly have emphasized that and it is paying off,” Meyer said.
MENTOR-STUDENT AGAIN: Meyer will be coaching against a former assistant for the second time this season when Ohio State plays at Maryland on Saturday.
Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin was a graduate assistant with Meyer at Bowling Green and then was a special teams coordinator for him at Florida. Earlier this year, he coached against former OSU assistant Chris Ash when the Buckeyes played Rutgers.
Meyer said he spotted Durkin as a coach to watch right away. “I immediately gave him full-time responsibility after the first few weeks we were together. I left to go to Utah, but I had plans to hire him full time immediately after that first year,” he said.
Durkin is in his first season as Maryland’s coach. He was Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season. The Terrapins (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) will take on Ohio State (8-1, 6-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Park, Md.
A COUPLE OF TEXANS: OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett, who grew up in Wichita Falls, Kan., needs two more touchdowns to pass fellow Texan Drew Brees for the most touchdowns responsible for in the Big Ten. Barrett has 94 combined passing and rushing touchdowns, one behind Brees’ total of 95.
“That’s just crazy to think about,” Barrett said earlier this week about passing Brees. “If you had told me when I was a sophomore in high school, ‘J.T., you’re going to be doing this,’ I’d have called you a liar or I just wouldn’t have believed you. It’s going to be an honor. I’m not going to take that lightly.”
NO FRIDAYS FOR OSU: Ohio State was not among the teams on the schedule of Friday night games in the Big Ten in 2017, which was announced on Tuesday.
The schedule starts with two games on Sept. 1, Washington at Rutgers and Utah State at Wisconsin. On Sept. 8, Ohio University will play at Purdue. Nebraska will go to Illinois on Sept. 29 and Northwestern will play on a Friday twice in three weeks, going to Maryland on Oct. 13, then having a home game against Michigan State on Oct. 27.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.