COLUMBUS — Ohio State hasn’t been fully healthy in six weeks, and that’s not likely to change.
But as the Buckeyes keep battling through adversity, keep relying on their remarkable depth and keep winning games, the program’s famed Next Man Up mentality has been put to the test.
Clearly Ohio State is passing it with flying colors, offering yet another reminder that it’s testimony and not theory for a team that makes no excuses and develops every player like a starter. That’s opening the door for new stars to emerge in key moments when the Buckeyes need them the most, and that will almost certainly be the case again on Monday night in the national-title matchup against Alabama.
“The most prepared team is going to win the game, and we have to prepare like we did the week before,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “The good news is I think we have a little confidence going into the game that we’ve shown what we can do, and now we’ve got to go do it again. You know, it’s a good lead-up time. We get 10 days here and kind of rest up a little bit and then get to work and practicing. So I think we’ll be refreshed and ready to roll. The virus still hasn’t gone away, so we’ve got to make sure we’re really vigilant in that area, which is still a struggle day in and day out. It’s just hard. But the preparation is just going to continue to go on.
“Again, we said it going into the last game: We’re going to have to play our best game. Well, we’re going to have to even play better than we did last week to beat Alabama.”
The Buckeyes rolled past Clemson with high-profile performances from familiar faces. But it took a complete team effort to dominate in the Sugar Bowl, and these contributors that might have been overlooked will potentially have a chance to make a difference in South Florida agains the Crimson Tide as well.
LG Matthew Jones
The Buckeyes have now had to shuffle the offensive line unit twice down the stretch, and both times Matthew Jones wound up playing a key role up front. Somewhat forgotten at times over the last couple years, Jones was a four-star and top-100 recruit when he arrived on campus for the Buckeyes, so the potential for him to emerge has always been there for the Brooklyn native. Development doesn’t happen overnight for big guys up front, and the light appears to be coming on for the redshirt sophomore now as he has been thrust into a key role to keep the attack rolling. Jones played with a physical presence, opened up key holes for the ground game and did his part to hold up in pass protection — all of which could keep him in the lineup for the title game even if Harry Miller is cleared to return.
SAF Lathan Ransom
Lathan Ransom was quietly making his move for more snaps as the year progressed, but the Ohio State freshman has dialed up the volume in the postseason. And he’s also delivering his biggest plays in the most important moments, stepping up with a clutch pass-breakup to seal the Big Ten championship and then knocking a ball loose to assist in an interception for Sevyn Banks that locked up the Sugar Bowl. Ransom didn’t even have the benefit of enrolling early during this pandemic-challenged year to start his learning process, but he’s obviously catching up to speed in a hurry.
RB Miyan Williams
The true breakout star of the present is unmistakably Trey Sermon. And even though he could come back, the title game is almost certainly going to be his final outing with Ohio State before heading to the NFL — which is why the ascent of Miyan Williams over the last three games could be important for the future. His ability to handle the backup role and Ohio State’s willingness to trust him in key spots is also pretty relevant right now, and Williams has turned heads in each of the last three games as he’s turned his limited opportunities into impressive production. The sample size of 9 carries is small, of course, but Williams has turned them into 69 yards while running with a nasty attitude that position coach Tony Alford has to love. There’s more help on the way at the position, but Williams has stamped his claim on the backup role heading down to South Florida.
DB Marcus Williamson
Obviously nothing about this year has been easy for anybody at Ohio State, and every unit has faced its share of unique challenges. The secondary has come in for the most scrutiny, even though it was always going to be a difficult process to replace two first-round cornerbacks, another NFL-caliber weapon at safety and then fill the void after losing cornerback Cameron Brown in October. Marcus Williamson struggled at times as the Buckeyes put him in more prominent roles, but their patience appears to be getting rewarded based on his solid work in the win over Clemson. Ohio State played him all over the field and turned him loose on special teams, and if Williamson can at least match the three tackles and pass-breakup from the Sugar Bowl, the secondary has a shot to make a few plays against Alabama.