Ohio State’s defensive backs say they like a challenge. And they certainly will get one against Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday.
The Crimson Tide’s passing game, led by quarterback Mac Jones (4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns) and Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith (105 catches, 1,641 yards, 21 touchdowns), is among the best in college football.
Alabama ranks fifth nationally in passing yards per game (349.3) and third in touchdown passes (37).
Ohio State’s defense in No. 116 in passing yards allowed. Despite that number, OSU’s players say they’re prepared for the challenge coming their way.
“They’re great players. When you’re in the national championship there won’t be bad players on the field. We’re just really excited to get out there and compete as a secondary against their group,” cornerback Marcus Williamson said during a Zoom conference on Wednesday.
“Anytime you have a group of competitors, as I feel we are as a secondary, you do look forward to these opportunities. You’re on the biggest stage in college football. So it’s go out there and show how much we’ve worked throughout the year,” he said.
Ohio State faced the daunting task of replacing two starting cornerbacks, Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette along with starting safety Jordan Fuller this season. Okudah and Arnette were first-round selections in the NFL draft and Fuller was picked in the sixth round.
The transition to much less experienced players in the secondary didn’t always go well, with cornerback Shaun Wade as the only returning starter.
Early in the season, Penn State threw for three touchdowns in a 38-25 OSU win and Indiana had five touchdown passes in a 42-35 OSU win.
But in its last three games, Ohio State has held Michigan State and Northwestern without passing touchdowns and allowed two against Clemson.
“Playing against teams like this (Alabama), they’re going to end up scoring. It’s part of the game,” Wade said.
“You rarely see a game where a team scores zero points. You’ve just got to get your stops on third down. That’s what we focus on. which is playing one play at a time and not focus on the next play,” he said.
Sevyn Banks, one of the new starters in OSU’s three-cornerbacks defense, had some struggles early when teams went after him in their passing game. But Banks has improved, Wade says.
“Sevyn just keeps on getting better and working on his craft every day. Sevyn is going to be a great player in the future,” he said.
Alabama can be scored on at times, such as when it allowed 48 points against Mississippi and 46 points against Florida. But the Crimson Tide’s offense had an answer in both those games, a 63-48 win over the Rebels and a 52-46 win over the Gators.
“This is a great offense. This is a complete offense. They have five All-Americans on offense. They have great players but they also have a great scheme. They understand how to attack defenses. People have tried a number of different things to attack them and they always have an answer,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said.
He said the Crimson Tide’s Heisman winner, Smith, is far from one dimensional.
“It’s way more than a guy running fast. He runs great routes, he catches the ball. He catches short balls and makes them big plays. Obviously, he catches the deep balls as well as anybody we’ve gone against. He’s a blocker, he’s a team guy. He’s involved in every phase of their offense. He’s really special,” Coombs said.