For most defenses, having a third cornerback good enough to start is a luxury. For the Ohio State Buckeyes this year, however, it’s a necessity.
Over the past few years, the Ohio State defense has rotated three cornerbacks. When secondary coach Jeff Hafley arrived, however, he did away with the rotation. He then effectively cut out the middle man and decided instead to put all three on the field together in the Buckeyes’ base defense.
The results have been impressive. Fifth-year senior Damon Arnette, junior Jeff Okudah, and redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade have each been playing at an All-League level.
Every defense has to have two good cornerbacks on the outside in order to be great, but having Wade in the slot gives the Buckeyes something that most teams don’t have.
How valuable is he to what Ohio State wants to do this season?
“I don’t know how I could really put any kind of commentary on how valuable it is, but that’s big,” head coach Ryan Day said this week. “You see a lot of guys in college football try to get the ball to the slot receiver, whether it’s RPOs or throws or whatever it is, that’s the guy they target. The guys on the outside, they’re a little bit longer throws. And so in college that guy gets targeted a lot.
“So you have to be multitalented. You have to be able to play the run. You have to be tough. You have to be able to play blitz and play coverage and man-to-man on a deep ball. You have to be able to do all those things to be really good at that position. Otherwise you have to keep moving different body types in there based on what you’re seeing. What Shaun gives us is great versatility because he has all those skills.”
Wade’s size and skill set are seen throughout a game, but there were a pair of screen passes that showcased that versatility in action.
On the first, Michigan State threw a wide screen pass to the right and Wade had to shed a block from an offensive lineman who outweighed him by 100 pounds. He got off the block and stopped the screen for about a yard gain.
On the second, the Spartans threw a screen to the left and Wade was able to cut through a blocker and hold up the ball carrier until the cavalry came.
The Buckeyes don’t need one of those hard-hitting strong safeties to break up screens or help out against the run because they’re getting that kind of production from Wade.
“Unbelievable,” Day said of Wade’s defense on the screen plays. “On that one screen that he made, or that he made a play on, we were kind of outnumbered. That was a heck of a design by them. But we talk about how toughness and effort can overcome scheme. And there’s two guys there that are blocking him. He kind of splits them and slows the screen runner down just enough.
“And then BB Landers gives great effort. Tuf Borland gives great effort on the play. And that’s about the pursuit that Greg Mattison talks about. And Shaun kind of stops them just enough to stop his feet, and then here comes the pursuit, they make the play, and that was a big play in the game.”
Wade played more snaps (68) in the Michigan State game than any other Buckeye defender. If that doesn’t give you an idea of how important he is to this defense, then maybe co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can explain it better.
“Well, he allows us to be able to match personnel groups,” he said. “So if a team is going to bring out four wide receivers, for example, you don’t have to narrow down what you call because of who’s out there. And so you can therefore match what they give you, and then still have the same aggressive attitude.”
Regardless of what the opposing offense shows, having Shaun Wade on the field permits the defense to remain aggressive at all levels, and it allows them to match up with whatever they see.
And so far whatever this defense is seeing, they are hitting.