COLUMBUS — The eraser at Ohio State actually leaves behind a mark.
Jordan Fuller still cleans up the mess, of course. But when the junior captain is healthy and doing his job, it’s easy to see exactly what happened despite how one of the nicknames for his role in the secondary makes it sound.
Safety net. Sweeper. Security blanket. Whatever else the Buckeyes want to call what Fuller provides defensively, even this early in the season it seems pretty clear that they would rather not ever do anything without him.
“Jordan gives you an insurance policy,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He’s a very good tackler in space, and he’s an experienced player who is one of the best in the country at what he does.
“Certainly you miss a guy of that caliber when he’s not playing.”
Ohio State was always going to win easily against an overmatched Oregon State squad. And since it didn’t need to see anything from Fuller, it made sense to give Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint the extra opportunities in an ongoing position battle for the other safety job.
A few busts for those young defenders provided them some invaluable on-the-job lessons to learn from. And it allowed everybody watching a chance to brush up on just how critical Fuller will be as the No. 4 Buckeyes gear up for a test against No. 15 TCU as part of a push to get back to the College Football Playoff.
“It killed me,” Fuller said. “It was so tough seeing them go out there and with me not being able to contribute at all. To be honest, I was just happy we got the [win] and I did everything I could to get back on the field.
“I was trying to put so much work in during the offseason just to be out there for my teammates, and I’m happy that I was able to again.”
The delay at the start of Fuller’s season was only one game, and honestly the Buckeyes probably could have managed another week without him in what amounted to a tuneup against Rutgers last week.
Fuller wasn’t needed all that much, but even with just three tackles he made his presence felt with his athleticism, ability to diagnose plays and knack for showing up in the spot right where he’s needed most. But what doesn’t show up in the box score individually might be even more important, since simply having Fuller on the field allows everybody in front of him to play more aggressively knowing he’s around to tidy up any mistakes.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” cornerback Jeffrey Okudah said. “I think he definitely gives you confidence, just because you have an experienced veteran back there, a captain and someone who has played in a lot of big games.
“So, just having him back there, you just have a sense of confidence.”
Jordan Fuller is going to be in that spot again on Saturday at AT&T Stadium despite showing up to his postgame press conference last week with a wrap on his left leg. He stressed on multiple occasions that his health is “good,” and that’s certainly reassuring for the Buckeyes in a matchup that represents one of their toughest tests of the season.
Ohio State is seeing some progress in Pryor and Wint already, and the emergence of Shaun Wade as a potential option at safety provides both more depth and flexibility with the lineup. But Fuller still carries the most important mop for the Buckeyes and their national-title aspirations, soaking up anything that spills his way.
“The main job of the safety is if the ball pops, get it on the ground,” Fuller said. “I definitely try to take pride in that, and I feel like it’s my job to get him on the ground if he does get out there. But I feel like if Jahsen was in that situation or if Isaiah was in that situation, they would have made the same play.
“We got the win [in the opener], but we definitely walked off the field with a bad taste in our mouths. Defensively, we felt like we had something to prove to ourselves and to the whole country, and I feel like we took a step forward.”
It wasn’t a coincidence that Jordan Fuller was on the field for it, making all those potential big plays for an opponent simply disappear.