Heacock gets his point across
The Ohio State defensive coordinator jumps into the action with his players.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
PHOENIX -- Say this much for Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: He's not afraid to jump into his job head first. The trouble is, he sometimes takes that philosophy a little too literal.
It's not unusual at practice, said Buckeyes senior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, for Heacock to jump into the middle of the fray. Trying to get his point across, he'll occasionally headbutt an offensive lineman ... who is still wearing a helmet.
Naturally, that's going to make for -- at the least -- not a small headache, and sometimes Heacock will sport a bruise or a drop of blood oozing from his forehead.
The players love it, as one might imagine, but Heacock, upon reflection, often wishes he could find a less troublesome method of getting his point across.
"I don't know what happens," admitted Heacock, who likened his head-butting to an Incredible Hulk-like transformation.
"I've tried to figure out how that happens. I just lose it. Every once in a while you've got to get a little excited, have a little fun.
"I hate it, I really do it. After it's over I wish I'd never done it. I don't like being a jerk."
The trouble is, Heacock's style of coaching gets results.
Returning just two starters from the 2005 defense, Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring defense (10.4 ppg) and was second nationally in total defense (273 ypg).
Forced 27 turnovers
And, the Buckeyes forced 27 turnovers this season, resulting in 127 Ohio State points. Meanwhile, the defense allowed opponents to score just 10 points following 16 OSU giveaways. All 10 of those points were scored by Michigan.
"I didn't know how good we could be. I still don't," said Heacock, the brother of Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock and a graduate of West Branch High School and Muskingum College. "I think it's thanks to the seniors. I don't think there's any question.
"You take Brandon Mitchell, who had a decent junior but nothing special, then he comes on as a senior and has a great year. The seniors had great years. They're a great group of leaders and unbelievable people. That's what I love."
Turning point was at Texas
Heacock said the turning point for him came against Texas on Sept. 9. The Buckeyes were coming off a 35-12 victory over Northern Illinois in the season opener, allowing running back Garrett Wolfe to rush for 171 yards.
But against the then No. 2-ranked Longhorns, Ohio State allowed 326 total yards, but only one touchdown, and the Buckeyes forced a pair of turnovers, including a fumble at the OSU 1-yard line, in a 24-7 victory.
"They've definitely matured from the first game," Heacock said. "Going down [to Texas], coming off just an average first game, there probably were still some doubts.
"But to go down there and compete against that offense ... I felt some maturity after that, some confidence maybe, more than anything, that, hey, maybe we're not that bad."
Monday night in the BCS national championship at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Buckeyes will face an offense as varied and explosive as any they've seen all season.
"There's a lot to look at," Heacock said. "There's is such a varied offense. There's some form of every offense we've seen this year within their offense. It takes a lot of preparation, it takes a lot of discipline and it takes a lot film study."
The Gators' top all-round performer is Percy Harvin, who averages 12.7 yards every time he touches the ball. He's rushed for 406 yards on just 36 carries and has caught 25 passes for 367 yards and two TDs.
"He reminds you of Ted Ginn. Just a big-play guy," Heacock said. "They're getting the ball in his hands a lot of different ways.
"They're moving him around, doing a lot of great things with him. When he's on the field you have to be aware of him. Anytime the ball's in his hand he has a chance to break it."
Heacock, though, cautions, about spending too much time on Harvin.
"As much as you have to be aware of him, they've got too many other good players," he said. "You hope you can go in there and slow them down.
"The key is to be simple enough that your guys can play hard and fast and run to the ball, but multiple enough that you can give them some changeups that hopefully makes them wonder what you're doing instead of you always wondering what they're doing."
Like to use trick plays
Throw in the Gators' penchant for trick plays and it's enough to give any coach headaches.
"All 11 guys have a job to do," Heacock said. "Don't get caught up in what you're seeing [in the backfield] because it's probably misdirection. Execution and discipline are the two things.
"Then you add into the formula that we have a got a lot of young guys out there and you know you're going to have a little bit of jitters. You have to be pretty sure what you're doing going in and keep it pretty simple. You give them the opportunity to get lined up and hope that they go to the right place.
"We're going to play our game, play our defense, try to do a good job of keeping them in front of us and not give them the big play."