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Ohio State's defense knows one offensive play -- and it clearly works

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offensive call in the defensive playbook fits on just one page.

It can't be dialed up before the snap, it's difficult to simulate live in practice and it requires an immediate ability to change both a mental mindset and a physical direction at a moment's notice.

But No. 2 Ohio State has proven quite adept when it has a chance to run "Sideline Return," already turning that simple play into a handful of touchdowns when the football finds the hands of a defender and that lone play gets put to use.

"We're never satisfied with just getting a sack, fumble or an interception," linebacker Chris Worley said. "The goal is once we make a play, make it an even better play.

"Go score."

The Buckeyes are doing that with frightening regularity early in the season, already tying a single-season school record by taking four turnovers back for touchdowns in just three games.

That leaves plenty of time to break and potentially extend that mark, and the rules for doing it have clearly been embraced by a group of dynamic, young playmakers all over the field.

Step 1: If it's an interception, block the intended receiver first.

Step 2: The former defender and current offensive threat needs to head upfield and get to the nearest sideline.

Step 3: The other 10 defenders need to seek out anybody to block while a speedy defensive back like Malik Hooker or Marshon Lattimore turns on the jets.

The Buckeyes are certainly not the only team in the country with that philosophy for converting turnovers into touchdowns. But there's perhaps nobody executing it better right now, which is obviously by design even if working on the details can sometimes be a challenge on the practice field thanks in part to the unpredictability of an interception or fumble.

"We do teach it, but we don't take it all the way back," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer sad. "We stop after two stripes (10 yards), going as hard as you can. And we coach it very hard, what the other 10 guys are doing when the ball is intercepted.

"The fact is the guys are good athletes, they take coaching very well, they're well trained and the interceptions they have, that's very good anticipation. And then once they intercept the ball ... teach the kid to get to the sideline and everyone else go get hats on people. When you watch videotape very closely, that's happening. No. 1 is good players, good defensive staff and then great results."

The Buckeyes may not be able to keep generating those outcomes at quite this prolific pace all season. But they also were supposed to be experiencing some growing pains in September after losing eight starters from last year's stingy defense -- including three defensive backs who skipped off early to the NFL draft.

Ohio State hasn't missed a beat, though, plugging in Hooker at safety and Lattimore at cornerback and watching them combine for six interceptions and a pair of touchdowns already. Late in the season-opening rout of Bowling Green, true freshman Rodjay Burns flashed his speed and potential by nabbing an interception and cruising 75 yards to the end zone. And in the blowout win on the road at Oklahoma before Ohio State's bye week, the front seven got in the mix when defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes tipped a pass that linebacker Jerome Baker snatched and took to the end zone.

The next player to come up with a turnover will be looking to establish a new record in Ohio State's storied history on defense. And the 10 other guys on the field will know exactly what they can do to help when the time comes.

"I mean, on defense you only have one play -- a sideline return," defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. "Basically, takeaways are a huge thing in a football game, so you get the ball and score, that's very big in a football game. We really emphasize that."

There's not that much to really memorize, of course. But the Buckeyes clearly have absorbed that lesson in the thin offensive section of their defensive playbook.