COLUMBUS — Ohio State doesn’t fear Alabama.
Sure, the Crimson Tide have an explosive offense led by three of the top-five finishers in the Heisman Trophy race. But the Buckeyes aren’t fearing the challenge of going up against their toughest opponent yet.
They’re looking forward to an opportunity to answer the questions that have been presented about how they plan to slow the Alabama attack down.
“I mean, we’re going to go play,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I don’t think you can play a game scared. I think that would be probably the worst thing you could do. But you have to also acknowledge when you’re playing teams that are really, really good at what they do. And they are and we acknowledge that, so we understand the challenge that’s ahead of us.
“We’re preparing to play.”
Ohio State isn’t going to back down from the challenges that come from trying to contain Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, All-American running back Najee Harris and the rest of the Crimson Tide offense. The Buckeyes are going to prepare and attack. And from there, they’ll let the game play out and try to be successful at slowing them down.
Coombs and some of the Buckeyes defensive stars met with the media as they gear up for the national title tilt with Alabama, and Lettermen Row has What We Learned from those sessions.
Jonathon Cooper, Haskell Garrett are ‘Energizer Bunnies’ for Silver Bullets
The Buckeyes have been improving defensively since their disappointing performance early in the season against Indiana.
That’s certainly been a group effort, but the two leaders up front, senior captain Jonathon Cooper and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, are providing the energy that is fueling the run to the national title game.
“You know, every week me and Coop — as long as me and Coop are OK and we keep the spirits high in the defense and in our unit, that’s all that matters really,” Garrett said. “We know if we’re okay, the rest of the guys are okay, and they feed off of us. We be the Energizer Bunnies for the — not only for the defense, but for the guys in the room.
“Whether a guy goes down due to injury or COVID, next guy is up and we’re coaching those guys, those young guys, and so it’s always been — it’s not about replacing, it’s about reloading.”
With their two ‘Energizer Bunnies,’ the Buckeyes are one win from being crowned the kings of college football.
Shaun Wade excited for challenge of defending DeVonta Smith
Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade has had a rocky season full of highlights and moments he might want back. But now, Wade has a chance to win a national title while leaving an incredible final impression on NFL scouts before heading to the draft process.
Wade will be tasked with defending Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, a receiver who averages more than 100 yards and nearly two touchdowns per game this season. Smith has barely been held down at all this season. But Wade is looking forward to the challenge of defending the best receiver in the game.
“You already know who I want to go up against,” Wade said.
Wade will certainly take confidence into his toughest matchup of the season. And if he can contain Smith, the Buckeyes will have a good chance to beat Alabama.
Lathan Ransom continues making strides in back end
As part of the canceled season, shortened camp and lack of nonconference games, the Ohio State freshmen haven’t had much time to ease their way into the program and settle in with playing time against lesser opponents.
That hasn’t mattered for first-year safety Lathan Ransom, who didn’t get to campus until June but has made an impact in each of the last three games. Ransom has earned more playing time as the competition has grown stiffer for the Buckeyes — and he seems to be finding a home in the secondary.
“He’s just continued to improve every day,” Coombs said. “I think those are the kids that probably suffer the most from the structure of the way summer went and a shorter season and all those kind of things, because Latham was — he was in COVID protocols and all those kind of things and really short-handed on some of his time and preparation. And then not having the opportunity to get those kids in games early in the year to help them develop, actually ended up — I think we all felt like he was doing a really good job in practice. But as you know, that’s different than the game.
“So he showed up and played big when we needed him to, and he continues to improve and develop, and we’re excited for his future.”
Justin Hilliard won’t return for seventh Ohio State season
With the NCAA rule that does not count this season against eligibility, Buckeyes sixth-year linebacker Justin Hilliard could potentially return for a seventh season at Ohio State.
But the standout linebacker, who is playing the best football of his career in the biggest stretch of his career, will not come back for a record-breaking seventh season. His time at Ohio State will finish at the national title game on Monday.
“I’m so surprised I’m getting a lot of these questions,” Hilliard said. “Even some of my family asked me recently if I’m staying for a seventh. I mean, at this point I’m completely have the intentions on this being my last game. It’s been an incredible journey, but I just don’t know how much more I can give to Ohio State.”
Hilliard has been a huge part of the Buckeyes national title run so far. But he won’t be back for another season next year. He’s about to wrap up his long Ohio State career.