The Ohio State secondary is known as “BIA,” which stands for Best In America.
For years, they have viewed themselves as the best group of defensive backs in college football.
This year, with cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Shaun Wade, along with safety Jordan Fuller, they are justifying their collective nickname quite well.
The Buckeyes are second in the nation in passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense, both numbers are placed just behind Clemson, who is tops in those categories. Ohio State, of course, has played a more difficult schedule.
That schedule, however, has not yet presented a reasonable facsimile to what BIA is going to face Saturday night.
With Clemson receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, and Amari Rodgers, the Buckeyes are facing the best group of receivers they’ve seen this season. Even better than Michigan’s trio of Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, and Ronnie Bell.
“I think they’re better down the field,” Jeff Okudah said of Clemson’s receivers. “They high-point the ball really well. They’re just really good playmakers, so for us it will just be about playing great technique at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing. And I would say not doing the same thing every single time.”
Doing the same thing every time is something that co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley has been adamant about avoiding. They will change up from man to zone throughout, with different levels of coverage mixed in.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence can make every throw, so the Buckeye secondary will have to slow him down a bit in order to give the pass rush an extra second to get to him.
This is the best passing offense that Ohio State is faced, and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows the challenges ahead.
“There’s no question that it is. There’s no question it is,” he said. “But we’re going to have to change it up. We’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game. When you get in a game like this, that’s what you do. We didn’t get here by not being able to do that. Our guys know that. Now you’re just having to take another step up the ladder. It is a challenge. Our secondary knows that.
“They’re the best receivers we’ve played against as a corps. But the other thing I keep going back to, you better stop the run because if you let them run the football and then have those three receivers with that quarterback, you’re asking for trouble.”
Clemson’s offense is a complete offense, just as Ohio State’s defense is a complete unit as well.
Pass defense starts with the pass rush, and while defensive end Chase Young will never be granted honorary membership into BIA, he has seen enough from the secondary behind him to know that they are looking forward to this matchup.
“I feel like they walk around with that look in their eyes. Every day. Every minute,” Young said. “Because they’re playing against some good receivers, man. I think we have some of the most competitive DBs in the country. I feel the best secondary in the country. And I feel like these are challenges that they want they want. And it’s definitely a game that they’re excited for.”
The stakes are immense and hidden from nobody. This is a semi-final playoff game. The winner plays for it all. That team will one step closer to truly being able to call itself the Best In America.
And while those games are won in the trenches, what happens between Clemson’s receivers and Ohio State’s defensive backs could just as easily decide this game.
Rather than focus on the scope of everything, however, the OSU secondary is simply excited about the challenge.
“We don’t talk about it,” Okudah said. “I think we always know what’s at stake as far as our unit and what we’ve set out to do this year and we know that will be a key part in winning that game.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’m looking at it as a challenge. I’m anxious to see what I can do against them. I know a lot of the guys in the secondary are. We’re really excited and ready for this moment because it’s a chance to show what BIA is capable of doing.