COLUMBUS — Ohio State fans can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing No. 67.
Who is he? For now, the answer is the team’s unlikely leader in tackles for loss.
Robert Landers, a little regarded and undersized defensive tackle from Dayton, has been one of the surprises of the Buckeyes’ young season.
When starter Tracy Sprinkle tore his patellar tendon in the first game and was lost for the season, Dre’Mont Jones figured to be the next in line at defensive tackle. Instead, Landers has thrived with an open path to playing time, leading the country’s top scoring defense with five tackles for loss.
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson — and many of Landers’ teammates — tease him about his size, but he has been effective for Ohio State nonetheless.
“I’m a little short for my [position],” Landers said. “Coach Johnson likes to tell me I’m gravity challenged.”
Landers is listed at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, which seems generous on both fronts.
The Buckeyes almost missed out on signing Landers in the first place. Ohio State wavered until deep into Landers’ senior season at Huber Heights Wayne, by which point Landers already had committed to West Virginia.
Ohio State wasn’t sure about Landers, but a dominant playoffs that season plus an in-person visit by co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell swayed the coaching staff.
“We didn’t offer him right away,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Luke Fickell, I believe it was, went and saw him and actually called me from the practice field and said, ‘We need to take this guy.’”
Landers’ dominance during the 2014 high school playoffs kept Fickell’s phone ringing. All the calls took a similar tone.
“He went to the playoffs and four weeks in a row every head coach that he played called after the game,” Fickell said. “He beat Dublin Coffman and [coach Mark] Crabtree called me after the game and said, ‘You guys gotta look at this kid.’
“Then they beat [Cincinnati] Moeller and the Moeller coach called and said, ‘I don’t know what you guys have, but you gotta look at this kid.’”
When the Buckeyes finally offered, Landers couldn’t say no. He backed off his pledge to WVU and switched.
“One thing about Ohio State, it’s hard to say no to them,” he said. “It really is. I’ve been loving it ever since.”
The partnership has been beneficial in 2016.
Landers is atypical for a nose tackle — almost always the biggest player on the defense — but Meyer said Landers succeeds in spite of his size.
“He’s a twitched-up, quick-twitch guy that gets underneath pads,” Meyer said. “You can’t have a whole defensive line like that, but he creates havoc in there. He’s very fast.”
Landers has eight tackles this season, including a sack. His five for loss have cost opponents 24 yards.
His size, or lack thereof, usually is the first thing people notice. But Landers said he uses the perceived disadvantage to bother offensive linemen.
“A lot of times I get a lot of offensive linemen who are 6-3 and plus, and it tends to be a little more difficult for them to bend down,” Landers said. “One thing about me is I’m quick off the ball, and since I am a little shorter, I’m able to use my leverage to my advantage, so I just play my game.”
Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State
■ Time: 3:30 p.m.
■ Records: Indiana is 3-1, 1-0 Big Ten; Ohio State is 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
■ TV: ESPN
■ Radio: 1470 AM, 106.5 FM
■ Series: Ohio State leads 71-12-5
■ Favorite: Ohio State by 29
■ Notes: The Buckeyes and Hoosiers meet after conference-opening wins, as OSU topped Rutgers and Indiana beat Michigan State. … The Hoosiers have not beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since 1987, and have not beat them at all since 1988. Ohio State is 21-0-1 against IU since 1989, which does not included a vacated win in 2010. … Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett, who set the school record for touchdown passes last week, is four away from trying Braxton Miller's record for touchdowns in a career. … Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow, a junior college transfer, has thrown for 1,278 yards in four games and leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game. … Ohio State has never lost in October under Urban Meyer, going 15-0 since Meyer took charge in 2012. … Buckeyes running back Mike Weber is averaging 123.6 rushing yards, the best in the conference. … Ohio State has a turnover margin of plus-8, the second-best margin in the FBS. … The Buckeyes have scored 228 points so far, a program record through four games. … Ohio State hits the road after today's game, playing at Wisconsin and Penn State the next two weeks.
Defensive tackle Robert Landers has eight tackles this season, including a team-best five for loss for Ohio State. He also has one sack. ASSOCIATED PRESS