COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Ryan Day had the best view of Damon Arnette’s revival in the secondary.
Of course, Arnette has been back with the Buckeyes since he decided to skip the NFL draft and come back to school. But Saturday against Indiana, Arnette officially put opposing offenses on notice about his return with the 96-yard interception he took back for a touchdown.
So when Day was asked if he had a good view of the play Arnette called the best he’s made in his life, Day responded with a smile.
“I was running down the sideline with him,” Day said.
Day has also had the best view of Arnette for the last year. Not just on the field, either.
He has seen Arnette mature, pass classes to earn a degree and become a complete player. This has all happened since Day took over as head coach in January. As Arnette scampered the length of the field, nobody was as excited as Day.
“I’m really proud of that kid,” Day said. “He’s been through a lot. He had to pass a bunch of classes academically last spring and this summer. To press reset, he’s given himself completely to [co-defensive coordinator] Jeff Hafley. And now, he’s practiced really, really well. He’s prepared well. And to see him make that play was awesome.”
As the member of the secondary who received the most scrutiny for last year’s defensive debacle, Arnette heard the noise. He knows what was said. He lived through quite a bit of hate. But he understood.
After everything that has been said about him dating back to last season, he was given a chance to respond Tuesday when he met with the media. But as a senior leader, he took the high road and found a positive way to spin what’s been said.
“I know how Buckeye Nation is,” Arnette said. “It’s love, it’s hate. They just want greatness. When they don’t understand how they want greatness, they could be mean sometimes. But I could be mean, too, so I ain’t trippin’ [about it].”
There’s certainly no reason for any hate now. The Buckeyes are outscoring opponents 86-13 in the first half this season. Seven of those 13 points given up came on a trick play from Indiana. The 86 scored by Justin Fields and the offense may have been expected with the way Day’s offense operates. But all the questions entering the season fell on a defense coming off its worst year in program history.
Arnette was a part of that unit last year. And he’s a huge part of the turnaround. With one final tuneup before the Buckeyes get into the thick of Big Ten play, Ohio State’s defensive 180 may just be getting started.
“We got just as much confidence as we need right now to continue on playing as we’re playing,” Arnette said. “We know how hard we worked this offseason, summer and the winter time. We just know it’s going to pay off.”
Quick starts help those defensive numbers. So does a top-five run defense, which forces teams to throw into an Ohio State secondary that features potential first round pick Jeff Okudah and blue-chip talent at every stop. Once those obvious passing situations arise, where can a quarterback throw to pick on the defense?
“I’d probably just throw bubble [screens],” Arnette said. “I wouldn’t throw the ball down the field, because that’s dangerous.”
Arnette contines to bleed confidence, which is reaching guys around him. He already is speaking into existence the idea of winning the national championship this season, something the Buckeyes last did 21 days before Arnette committed to play at Ohio State.
Plays like a 96-yard pick-six will only help the Buckeyes get there. Those plays will also keep Day running down the sideline, cheering for Arnette.
“It’s motivating,” Arnette said. “You want to do it again and make him hype again.”