COLUMBUS, Ohio — Snap after snap, quick pass after deep throw, the Ohio State inexperience at defensive back showed. And Indiana decided to try to capitalize in the season opener a week ago.
The Hoosiers tested the fresh faces over and over. They aired the football out a ridiculous 68 times to see just how successful Ohio State could be defending the pass after replacing three first-round draft picks in the offseason. And while getting burned is a dirty expression for a cornerback or safety, sometimes a trial by fire is a necessary part of the development process.
For that, the Buckeyes just might wind up thanking Indiana. After all, they didn’t melt down and were given a bunch of extra reps to prepare for a massive showdown with Oklahoma on Saturday at the Horseshoe.
“We got off to a slow start, and they made some plays on us,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “When you look at it, it was a group of guys who had played some but hadn’t started, hadn’t been in that role. I was concerned a little bit during the first half, but I was pleased with the way they rebounded in the second half.
“But I do think it’s a good thing. I thought [Indiana had] a very good plan. Early on it was effective. Later on in the game, it wasn’t so effective. … As coaches, you always see the negative first. But when you look at the game, really there were a ton of positives”
The Buckeyes can start by looking at the scoreboard. There never will be any complaints about coming out with a win on the road in conference play, although Ohio State also isn’t a program that will overlook mistakes just because it didn’t lose.
But after giving up 24 completions, 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opening half, Ohio State improved in all three categories after intermission as cornerbacks Denzel Ward, Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette appeared to get more comfortable.
“I mean, that gave our corners some humbling and obviously let them get out and go,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Players come here to be great. Our coaches coach here to be great. In some areas, we did not play great.
“The obvious is we have to knock some balls down.”
That started happening as the game progressed. By the end of the game, Ohio State had broken up 11 passes and finished with a pair of interceptions. Ward, in particular, seemed to rise to the repeated challenges, eventually breaking up 5 passes, grabbing the first interception of his career and starting to show glimpses that he can be the next first-round defensive back Ohio State sends off to the NFL.
Like the rest of the unit, his night wasn’t perfect. But according to this play-by-play breakdown by Cleveland.com, Ward’s work in holding the Hoosiers to 58 yards on 18 passing attempts that came his way was invaluable — even if the 6 completions allowed don’t technically meet Ohio State’s usual standards.
“We’re new corners, and they’re going to target us,” Ward said. “You’ve got to expect that going in. But that was exciting, it was fun. I definitely see it as a benefit. It got us ready for this upcoming game.
“We’re going to get that in the future because they caught some balls on us. But I think we’re going to be all right.”
The Sooners are more than capable of providing a similar challenge, if not a greater one with Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield back for another season leading their offense.
Before Ohio State’s last batch of draft picks became stars, they went through a couple of those learning moments, courtesy of Mayfield, a year ago even in a game the Buckeyes won comfortably. If nothing else, this new group might have something of a jump-start, thanks to the crash course the Hoosiers gave them in the opener.
“When you play corner, it’s not the five you made that stick out, it’s the two you missed,” Schiano said. “That’s the position. If you don’t like it, go play something else. So, what will get focused on is the catches, because around here, the standard is you don’t allow catches. We had guys that allowed 8 catches in a whole season. So that’s the standard at Ohio State, and that’s the way it should be.
“We need to rise to that standard because we’re not ever going to lower the standard.”
Snap after snap, though, the Buckeyes picked up the experience needed to match it by never backing down from the first taste of the heat.
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