Healthy Ohio State secondary will be Fiesta Bowl X-Factor

Austin Wardalmost 2 years
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward


Jeffrey Okudah by Birm-Lettermen Row

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the secondary? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The Next Man Up mentality keeps the Ohio State backups ready, and it prevents the program from ever making excuses.

But when the guys going down are potential first-round picks, obviously it’s a challenge to meet the same standard those front-line starters have set — most notably in the secondary.

The Buckeyes have actually done a great job over the last couple weeks rotating in younger players and still finishing the season with the second-ranked pass defense in America. But they clearly aren’t the same when Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette or Shaun Wade aren’t on the field.

The wear and tear of a long season for the Buckeyes finally caught up to them thanks to that brutal three-week closing stretch against ranked opponents. And the real problem for the Silver Bullets was that all the injuries seemed to be concentrated in the secondary. And while the next wave of cornerbacks like Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks deserve credit for what they’ve done off the bench and look like they are certainly capable of taking the torch next season, right now Ohio State is obviously at its best when the stars are healthy.

Shaun Wade-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade has proven to be one of the most valuable members of the secondary. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

That wasn’t the case with Arnette continuing to play through a broken wrist and then picking up a minor back issue at Michigan. Wade missed all of The Game with what appeared to be a lower-body injury and still didn’t appear to be at full strength in the Big Ten championship. The Silver Bullets also had to deal with stretches last week with Jeff Okudah on the sideline — and it wasn’t a coincidence that Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus did most of his meaningful damage when the Buckeyes had a future NFL superstar receiving medical attention.

Obviously the pressure is going to be on the secondary to prove itself worthy of its BIA moniker as the top unit in America in the Fiesta Bowl against a talented group of wide receivers and one of the best passers in the country in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But there’s really no reason to think the last couple weeks exposed any real flaws for the Buckeyes, other than reinforcing the importance of having the best players healthy when it’s time to compete for championships.

The truth is that every part of that defense looked a little worn down early against Wisconsin before responding with a second-half shutout. And with three weeks to get fresh and allow the cornerbacks to get healthier, the Buckeyes should be fully prepared for the challenge.

“We played Buckeye defense in the second half,” Ohio State captain Chase Young said. “I would say the first half we weren’t ourselves. Obviously the first half we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of missed tackles.

“But I feel like as you see in the second half, I feel like we played pretty lights out for the most part.”

The secondary certainly did its part, just as it has all season. Those numbers really don’t lie when it comes to the pass defense, and combining the talent of those defensive backs with one of the most terrifying pass-rushes in the country makes it just as risky as ever to throw on Ohio State.

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