SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Nobody needs to tell Ohio State how important Shaun Wade is to the success of one of the nation’s best defenses.
The NFL scouts know its, too, and the buzz has been steadily building for the redshirt sophomore defensive back even if he’s rarely been in the spotlight for the Buckeyes this season.
Despite his knack for creating turnovers, the hard-hitting form tackles he delivers and some remarkable versatility that allows Ohio State to play him all over the field, Wade perhaps didn’t truly get the credit he deserves until he was injured late in the season and forced to miss The Game at rival Michigan.
“That was probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to go through,” Wade said last week. “I’d been waiting my whole career for that game. We’re passed that game, though, and at the end of the day we’re still in the final four. Just have to prepare for that.
“I just wasn’t 100 percent, I really wasn’t ready. But I’ve been rehabbing, and I just want to be 100 percent, be there, be ready for the game, for real.”
The Buckeyes expect the playmaker to be back to that point by Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl, and they need Wade at his best against one of the most talented offenses in the country. Given the variety of ways Clemson can attack opponents, it figures to be critical for Ohio State to be able to respond with its own dynamic weapon, unleashing Wade on everything from blitzes to run support to one-on-one matchups in pass coverage.
From start to finish this season, few players in the country have been able to match his trademark flexibility and athleticism. And with all eyes on the College Football Playoff on Saturday, Wade could truly have his chance to emerge as a national star.
What makes Shaun Wade so critical to the Ohio State defense? How close is the redshirt sophomore to full strength heading into the Fiesta Bowl? Where can the Buckeyes use him the best to create winning matchups against Clemson? Former Ohio State safety Mike Doss was back in the Lettermen Row film lab looking at how Wade has been used and trying to answer those questions in the latest episode of BuckIQ.
Roll the tape!
Lettermen Row senior writer Austin Ward contributed the editorial content for this post.