Ohio State football: Secondary a primary concern

Bradley Roby (#1, white) makes his biggest play of the last two weeks. - Jonathan Daniel

18-0. Keep saying it; it's still true. But despite monster games by Braxton Miller against Wisconsin and Carlos Hyde against Northwestern, the Buckeyes could be looking at two straight losses. And the OSU secondary is one major reason why.

Sometimes, you get lucky.

Sometimes, the ball bounces the way you want it to and the way you need it to.  The quarterback makes an outstanding decision instead of a bonehead one.  The linebacker guesses right and a 20-yard gain turns out to be a five-yard loss.  Sometimes, you pick a cover, sweat for the majority of a college football game, and are vindicated with no time left on the clock.

Getting to 6-0 on the year, and 18-0 under Urban Meyer, has taken a lot of talent by the Buckeyes, certainly more than was present during the 6-7 disaster year of 2011 (#neverforget).  But there has been lots of luck helping the process as well.

Last week, it was Braxton Miller, in the face of the toughest competition he had yet faced as a Buckeye, grititng out 200 yards and four TDs.  A lot of it was skill, to be sure, but after injuries and almost superb backup play almost turned the once-and-future Heisman contender into maybe the second-best quarterback in Columbus, luck certainly helped guide Miller and the Buckeyes to the win.

This week, it was luck hiding in the form of a 100% healthy and dominant Carlos Hyde, who gashed the Northwestern defense for over 200 all-purpose yards and three second-half touchdowns, all of which were the difference between 6-0 and a lost season.  With Jordan Hall on the shelf nursing an injury, the game was Hyde's to win, and win it he did.  There was no Wildcat answer for Hyde in the second half, and despite three Braxton Miller turnovers and an all together shaky offensive performance, Hyde and the Buckeye offensive line won the battle that won the war.

And lucky it was, both this week and last week, that the offense was able to bail out the Buckeye secondary, who have looked downright pedestrian - borderline awful - in the last 120 minutes of Ohio State football.

Now let's be clear, there are a few caveats required before calling the Buckeye secondary bad.  For one, the loss of Christian Bryant at the end of the Wisconsin game was going to hurt the defense moving forward.  There's simply no getting around the cost of losing a defensive captain, especially for the remainder of the season.  There's no getting around losing your best safety as Big Ten play gets very serious.

But that's really where the caveats end.

Bradley Roby, who chose to come back to Columbus after receiving a second round grade from scouts prior to the 2013 NFL draft, and who was suspected to be one of the best corners in not only the conference, but also the country.  As the number one corner, Roby has drawn the best wide receiver on the opposing team, with the sole goal of shutting said best wide receiver down.  That, simply, hasn't happened.

Against Wisconsin, the goal was to shut down the vaunted Badger running attack of James White and Melvin Gordon, and rely on Joel Stave to win the game for the Badgers.  This, primarily, happened, as Gordon and White were both out-rushed by Miller, and only accounted for 104 total yards.  But Stave was almost the best quarterback on either side of the field, with 295 yards and two touchdowns.  His favorite target was Jared Abbrederis, who often drew Roby in coverage, and still managed to put up a game-high 207 yards and a score.  He was the difference-maker for the Badgers, on a night where a running team couldn't run the ball.  And the secondary's inability to contain Abbrederis and Stave almost cost the Buckeyes a win.

Northwestern, on the other hand, presented a different problem for the Buckeyes.  The Wildcats don't have the rushing prowess of the Badgers, but present many more options in their receiving corps.  All told, Northwestern's two-headed quarterback machine of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, more than held their own, with 343 yards through the air and two scores.  Colter was more than on the mark, firing 12/12 and 98 yards, adding a receiving touchdown to his stats.  The star was Rashad Lawrence, the Northwestern senior, who put 149 yards on the Buckeyes, including a long 67-yard catch and run that could have been the difference for the Wildcats.

When the opposing quarterback is catching touchdown passes against your once vaunted secondary, then saying there are issues is the understatement of the season.

It isn't all bad for the Buckeye defense, let's be honest about that.  Northwestern's multi-pronged attack only yielded 94 yards on the ground, with a long run of just eight yards.  Roby had a pick against Wisconsin, while Doran Grant lifted one against Northwestern.  The defensive line has sacked opposing quarterbacks seven times in two weeks, a welcome change from the first few games of the season when it didn't look like the pass rush was going to be effective at all.

But, as stated above, sometimes you get lucky.  Sometimes your secondary looks like a D-II outfit but still eeks out wins against the best competition in the conference.  Sometimes your secondary coach, a man whom many of us would like to call our father our crazy uncle that we only see at family parties, gets a chance to stop jumping around on the sidelines and remember that tackling is more important than attitude.

And sometimes, when the injury bug is biting, you play your two hardest games of the season, you win them, and then you get to take a week off to regroup, refocus and rest for the last seven (and hopefully eight) games of the season.

Doesn't get a whole lot luckier than that.

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