I wish I could tell you Ohio State’s secondary is going to get better.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, the outlook is not so good.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Buckeye defense ranks 130th in the FBS in yards per game. There are 130 FBS programs.
Ohio State Defensive Rankings
|Yards per attempt||7.8||96th|
|Attempts per game||51.5||128th|
|Yards per game||403||130th|
Heading into the 2017 campaign, OSU was tasked with replacing three starters in the secondary: cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, and safety Malik Hooker. All three were selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The year prior, cornerback Eli Apple and safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell left significant vacancies before Lattimore and Co. surprisingly proved to be upgrades.
What I’m trying to say here is that OSU has been churning out future pros at an incredible rate for the past few seasons. Fans, coaches, and even players in Columbus are used to watching stars leave and be immediately replaced with ease.
It’s nice when it all works out – like with Lattimore, Conley and Hooker – but to think that kind of seamless turnover occurs year after year is ridiculous.
I said as much prior to the Buckeyes season-opener.
“But this season is different. Nearly an entire new group of defensive backs is taking center stage. While there’s obviously still plenty of talent in place to meet expectations, you just don’t know until you, well, know.”
Even in the never-ending personnel shuffling that is college football. Even at The Ohio State University. Even under three-time national championship winning coach Urban Meyer.
Continuously banking on your new players being as good as the ones you just lost isn’t sustainable.
And that’s where we’re at with the Buckeyes.
Denzel Ward, Damon Arnette, and Kendall Sheffield are the top three corners on defense this year. Ward is by far the most experienced of the group and projects as a 2018 first-round pick.
Arnette logged little meaningful minutes before 2017 and Sheffield is an uber athletic junior college transfer. Neither have done the defense many favors and were victimized by both Indiana and Oklahoma.
Especially Arnette, who’s looked lost on the field this season.
Ward’s been everything we expected as the standout in the secondary. He snagged an interception Week One and has held up in coverage for the most part. Though, he does get picked on at times.
And how’ve the safeties fared?
Not much better.
Erick Smith and Damon Webb are your starters, with potential-laden Jordan Fuller rotating in. Smith is wildly ineffective and I’d like to see more of Fuller. He has the range and playmaking ability to really make a difference on the backend.
It’s not an ideal unit, but the talent’s there despite their on-the-field showing.
What’s Happened So Far
The Buckeyes secondary has been torched in consecutive weeks.
And I mean torched.
While Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow faded late, he still diced through OSU’s defense and finished the night with 410 passing yards and three touchdowns. On the receiving end of a lot of those passes was star wideout Simmie Cobbs Jr., who had 11 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown.
Nine days later, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy contending quarterback Baker Mayfield lit up The ‘Shoe.
He completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns, consistently driving up and down the field on the Buckeyes. Mayfield might’ve blown the doors off the Silver Bullets if not for so many missed opportunities in opposing territory.
Coming up, OSU will square off with Army at home in Columbus.
The Black Knights are allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game this season and their offense is second in the nation in rushing yards per game. Starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw only has two completions for a whopping 17 passing yards.
I’m sure Army’s gimmicks will give the Buckeyes issues early on, but the Scarlet and Gray secondary should bounce back in big way on Saturday.
Where To Go From Here
It’s not like there’s a pool of corners and safeties for Meyer and his coaching staff to choose from.
The Buckeyes got who they got and have to hope Arnette, Sheffield and others settle in and improve as the season progresses.
It’ll be quite a while before they face a ranked opponent (Penn State, Oct. 28), so there’s ample time for Schiano and the secondary to get it together.
Would OSU’s defensive backs perform better if the offense moved the ball with some consistency?
Probably. But until then, they should try holding up their end of the bargain on a team expected to make the College Football Playoff.
Because right now, they’re doing the exact opposite.
I wish I could say I’m surprised.