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Healthy Ohio State secondary will be Fiesta Bowl X-Factor

Jeff Okudah-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah missed some action in the Big Ten title game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Healthy Ohio State secondary will be Fiesta Bowl X-Factor

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the secondary? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The Next Man Up mentality keeps the Ohio State backups ready, and it prevents the program from ever making excuses.

But when the guys going down are potential first-round picks, obviously it’s a challenge to meet the same standard those front-line starters have set — most notably in the secondary.

The Buckeyes have actually done a great job over the last couple weeks rotating in younger players and still finishing the season with the second-ranked pass defense in America. But they clearly aren’t the same when Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette or Shaun Wade aren’t on the field.

The wear and tear of a long season for the Buckeyes finally caught up to them thanks to that brutal three-week closing stretch against ranked opponents. And the real problem for the Silver Bullets was that all the injuries seemed to be concentrated in the secondary. And while the next wave of cornerbacks like Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks deserve credit for what they’ve done off the bench and look like they are certainly capable of taking the torch next season, right now Ohio State is obviously at its best when the stars are healthy.

Shaun Wade-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade has proven to be one of the most valuable members of the secondary. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

That wasn’t the case with Arnette continuing to play through a broken wrist and then picking up a minor back issue at Michigan. Wade missed all of The Game with what appeared to be a lower-body injury and still didn’t appear to be at full strength in the Big Ten championship. The Silver Bullets also had to deal with stretches last week with Jeff Okudah on the sideline — and it wasn’t a coincidence that Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus did most of his meaningful damage when the Buckeyes had a future NFL superstar receiving medical attention.

Obviously the pressure is going to be on the secondary to prove itself worthy of its BIA moniker as the top unit in America in the Fiesta Bowl against a talented group of wide receivers and one of the best passers in the country in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But there’s really no reason to think the last couple weeks exposed any real flaws for the Buckeyes, other than reinforcing the importance of having the best players healthy when it’s time to compete for championships.

The truth is that every part of that defense looked a little worn down early against Wisconsin before responding with a second-half shutout. And with three weeks to get fresh and allow the cornerbacks to get healthier, the Buckeyes should be fully prepared for the challenge.

“We played Buckeye defense in the second half,” Ohio State captain Chase Young said. “I would say the first half we weren’t ourselves. Obviously the first half we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of missed tackles.

“But I feel like as you see in the second half, I feel like we played pretty lights out for the most part.”

The secondary certainly did its part, just as it has all season. Those numbers really don’t lie when it comes to the pass defense, and combining the talent of those defensive backs with one of the most terrifying pass-rushes in the country makes it just as risky as ever to throw on Ohio State.

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Doug Riseborough
Doug Riseborough

We haven’t played anyone this year with the offensive fire power Clemson has, great running back and three NFL quality receivers. This by far will be the biggest test for The Silver Bullets. The key for me will be to get pressure on the quarterback and force errant throws and maybe pick off 1 or 2. I think our offense will play very well, we stack up on offense as good as anyone in the country. I do however wonder if Clemson is as good as advertised, they really haven’t played against competition as good as the Buckeyes. Really should be an entertaining game!! GO BUCKS!!

Weave77
Weave77

Hey Austin, have you heard anything with regards to Jeff Hafley and the BC job?

Robert Gustin
Robert Gustin

He should wait a year – BC’s a shitty job compared to what he might get next year.

Brian
Brian

I worry also about those two 6-4″ receivers that CAN go up and CATCH balls Clemson has there. We better get ready because if we dont pressure this darn Lawrence better than we did Coan there at Wisconsin, then it could be a long day. And, Lawrence can run people. This kid can get it done with his legs, he is fast and can run. So. Defense best be ready and get after him, keep him contained as well, and make him throw fast. And then we best be able to get up with those tall receivers too, especially deep. I have seen us have trouble with some of the opposing tall, and skilled receivers, honestly. Hope they can meet the challenge. Arnette has a broken wrist and a cast. Now back issues. He comes off the field all the time. These other injuries back there also. Im a bit nervous there. And we have been attacked dtraight up the middle too, not only withnpasses but runs when we sub out. I trust our coaches know these things, but it still has to get done on the field. This is a very big challenge folks, Clemson is not a slouch,… Read more »

Brian
Brian

As for our secondary….I hope we use lots of pressures and blitzes against Lawrence. Our D backs and Backers have been successful with that. And that can make our edge rush even more effective, especially when we have Harrison, the new D end in, along with Young, if we have blitzers running around in there. Out tackiling and assignments have been poor at times when we sub some of these new guys in, as the article states. But if we dont hit that kid and pressure him he will burn you, and worse yet, will run. Guy can definately run. So for me the secondary needs to get after him and also cover those tall receivers. And the secondary, or a backer needs to watch at all times for Lawrence to run also. A big chore, but we have Coach Hafley and Mattison, and they will need to dial stuff up, and can. Venables does this to great effect, sending all kinds of rushers in, unseen, and on delays,etc. and we should also. Blitz them and get to Lawrence. Etienne is not that great of a blocker at times, did you see the North Carolina game? Several times they got… Read more »

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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