COLUMBUS — Jashon Cornell has been in the Ohio State locker room for five years.
If anybody on the roster knows what the culture inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center has been and what it is during Ryan Day’s first year, it’s the veteran defensive lineman.
So when Cornell was asked Tuesday during the Buckeyes weekly player interviews what is different about this year’s defense, his answer carried some weight.
“Previous years, I feel like we were so stiff, but this year, we’re letting it loose and letting the bullets fly,” Cornell said. “We’re just having a lot of fun out there. We’re enjoying playing with each other. What we have in the locker room now is really different.
“The love that we have for each other and the love that we have for our brothers, we just want to go out there, have fun and play ball. I feel like that’s the one thing we’re doing [differently] from the previous years.”
The motto “tough love” was adopted by Day nearly immediately after he took the whistle from Urban Meyer. The tough part is self-explanatory from a football perspective. But the love is where the fun and relaxing nature of the new-look Buckeyes defense that is flying around the football comes from.
That seems to be the difference. Last season, Ohio State gave up over 300 yards rushing and 51 points to Maryland. The Terrapins should have probably beaten the Buckeyes. The defense seemed to be playing tight. It made the Buckeyes look out-of-sorts defensively. With a new coaching staff and a new defensive scheme, the Buckeyes are loose in the middle of an 8-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff standings.
That’s what Day has helped changed, with the four new hires on the defensive side of the ball obviously playing a big role in that as well. The entire feeling surrounding the Buckeyes, not just the defense, has been a loose environment.
“That’s been the culture since winter workouts,” Cornell said. “We’re all playing for each other. We all know where we want to be at the end of the day, and you don’t want to let your brother down.
“At the same time, you want to have fun. We know when to have fun and when to lock in.”
Fun can be many things. Defensive tackle Robert Landers described Chase Young as “a goofball” last week, citing the superstar as a source or fun in the locker room. Captains and roommates Jonathon Cooper and Jordan Fuller make jokes at each other’s expense. Quarterback Justin Fields and other Buckeyes were called on to dance in front of the team during training camp. Those are all sources of fun.
But in the fall, the real fun begins.
“This time of year fun is a little different,” Day said. “Fun is winning. Fun is being part of a team working towards a goal, working through adversity, those type of things. Not silly, goofy fun. There’s a difference.
“We’ve worked hard to get ourselves to this point. We owe it to each other to make sure we’re locked in on that.”
The relaxed nature is a vision Day had for the Buckeyes. The tone in the facility seems to be relaxing, while also demanding. Ohio State is taking care of its business while enjoying the process that goes along with a 12-game regular season and potential playoff berth.
Cornell and the Buckeyes aren’t close to being concerned with the playoff talk and ranking right now, though. There are still four games left in the regular season before they can even begin to discuss the possibility of a hat trick in the Big Ten title game, a win in the College Football Playoff semifinal and a trip to New Orleans for a national championship game.
They’d rather focus on having fun in the locker room, playing loose while maintaining a chip on their shoulder and locking in when it’s time to bury another Big Ten opponent.
“That’s [the difference] between being a good football player and a bad football player,” Cornell said. “Being able to play loose and understanding what’s in front of you. That’s some of the issues we probably had in the past.”
Those issues seem to be behind the Buckeyes. Jashon Cornell would know.
He’s been in the locker room and seen the evolution from up-tight to relaxed and loose.