When Jordan Fuller was ejected early in the second quarter for targeting, you could almost feel the collective blood pressure of Ohio Stadium shoot up. At that point in the game, the Buckeyes hadn’t been great on defense by any means, but they had a nine-point lead, and Jordan Fuller, like he had all season, was keeping the defense together with his play at safety.
Now the defense’s top leader was gone for the rest of the game, and one of Ohio State’s weakest positions would have to go to the bench to find a replacement. As Buckeye fans know, Ohio State found more than a one-time replacement in Brendon White. They may have found a future star, and the answer at safety that had vexed Greg Schiano and the defensive staff all season long.
White’s impact on the defense showed up almost immediately. He was a bit quiet on his first drive, as he got into the flow of the game and mostly hovered around the defensive backfield, but on his second drive at safety, White caught up to the speed of the game, and started wreaking havoc.
This was the first of many times that Brendon White showed something that no other Buckeye defender has shown much at all this year. Out of his high safety spot, he read the play, tracked Adrian Martinez’s scramble, got downhill, and most importantly, took the correct pursuit angle to bring Martinez down in the backfield. This is not in any way an easy play to make, especially for a young safety, but White’s discipline, awareness and fantastic athleticism helped him make this first-down saving tackle.
Just a couple plays later he makes a similar tackle in the red zone, as he reads the run, gets downhill, and puts himself in a position to succeed. He actually misses the read slightly, setting the edge a bit too hard on the fake by Devine Ozigbo, but his quickness allow him to burst into the hole when Ozigbo does, and he wraps up and keeps Ozigbo out of the endzone with a tackle that he makes look pretty easy, despite a super high degree of difficulty. It’s great to see a young player make up for an over pursuit like this, because generally, that quick adjustment is the sign of a good player.
While Nebraska did end up finding the end zone a few plays later on that drive, it was still super encouraging to see White making the plays that Jordan Fuller has made all year, and in some cases (like the late adjustment on the running back), plays that I’m not entirely sure Fuller can make. Fuller is a steady tackler, a smart player, and a great leader, but White seems to be on a whole different level physically. That’ll make them excellent complementary players if Ohio State does go with a Fuller/White safety pairing for the remainder of the season.
Speaking of that ability to adjust and adapt his pursuit, White didn’t just do that on the on red zone run. He did it all game long. He did it on runs that got to the second level, tracking the ball the whole way and preventing any kind of big play, he did it in coverage, sticking close to his receiver, reading their route and either covering them completely or allowing a catch and immediate tackle.
He did it here on this option to JD Spielman, as he got caught up in a block but never took his eyes off the ball. He got untangled quickly, and took a perfect angle to take Spielman down before he could pick up the first down. In football, scheme can only take you so far. Sometimes a defense needs players to step up and make a play, and it felt like every time Ohio State needed a sure tackler, White was there.
This final play may be the best of the whole game from White. From his high safety spot, he reads the screen, but he doesn’t over play it, causing Martinez to go elsewhere with the ball. He almost sneaks up into a spot where he can make a play, and breaks on the receiver as soon as the ball is out. This pursuit, and the huge hit once he gets there, was one of the best individual efforts I’ve seen from a Buckeye defender all season long.
Effort is a huge part of what makes Brendon White the player that he is, or at least the player that he was on Saturday. Ohio State has had issues with effort this season, specifically on defense. They’ve had linebackers giving up on plays, corners getting burnt because they weren’t running full speed, and lapses in judgement that led to huge plays. White wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but he showed exactly what you want to see from a great safety. He was in on every single play. He may have recorded 13 tackles, but he was responsible for even more.
That shows up on film. 25 being in on the tackle on nearly every play, 25 filling a gap and allowing another player to make the tackle, 25 playing perfect coverage on a tight end when needed, and breaking off that coverage if the ball is thrown elsewhere. That’s all a result of effort and talent, both of which White showed a lot of on Saturday, and both of which this defense has been lacking at times this season.
With that in mind, I just don’t see any way Ohio State can afford to keep this kid off the field next week, or for the rest of the season. I think it’s pretty obvious that Fuller, White and Shaun Wade are Ohio State’s three best safeties, and using Fuller/White up top and Wade in the nickel makes perfect sense. The Buckeyes have been looking for a rangey, athletic safety to play alongside the physical Fuller all year long, and I think White fills that role perfectly,