The Buckeye Empire Summer Series continues with a look back at the 2012 season and the cornerback position, Bradley Roby and Travis Howard in particular.
In 2012, the Ohio State defense struggled mightily at times on the defensive end and many of those struggles centered around the defensive backfield. At a school sometimes referred to as DBU or CBU-Defensive Back University or Corner Back University, respectively-having problems in the secondary was especially alarming for Buckeye Nation.
Last season, the Silver Bullets ranked 11th out of 12 in the B1G in terms of passing defense, while allowing 2,922 yards through the air on the season.
Seeing these eye-poppingly bad numbers from the secondary came to become an enigma.
Bradley Roby had a stellar year for the Buckeyes, garnering All Big Ten and All-American honors. Travis Howard earned All Big Ten honors of his own. Doran Grant filled in admirably for Howard when he wasn’t 100%. Adam Griffin helped out along the way as well.
What was the problem? Why were the most obvious numbers so obviously bad?
The answer comes in a couple of parts.
Part 1: The Buckeye corners came up big when they needed to. They bent, but never broke.
Ohio State ranked second in the Big Ten in first downs allowed with 219 and fourth in the Big Ten in opponent third down conversions with 63.
Essentially, Ohio State would allow a lot of yards on first and second down through the air, but when third down came along, there was no mercy to be had. The Buckeye corners were lock-down when they needed to be, but thanks to their rush defense, they didn’t need to be often.
Part 2: They made big plays when they needed to.
Roby had two interceptions, including the memorable pick-six below, that helped the Buckeyes win a crucial game against the 21st ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Doran Grant had a big interception against UAB. Travis Howard picked off Zac Dysert twice against the Miami Redhawks. Christian Bryant picked off California quarterback Zach Maynard to secure one of Ohio State’s closest games of the year against the Golden Bears.
These guys made the plays that changed the game. While they didn’t show in the box score, these plays are part of what made the Buckeye cornerbacks so great.
Part Three: Deep down in the heart and soul of the statistics, there were the Ohio State cornerbacks leading the way.
Bradley Roby lead the Big Ten in passes defended with 17. Travis Howard lead the Big Ten in interceptions with 4. The Buckeyes were tied for first in the Big Ten with 14 interceptions total.
While it didn’t often show on the field, these Ohio State corners were the best in the Big Ten statistically. They hawked the ball, intercepted it often, and shutdown some of the best receivers in the conference. The tape will tell a lot, but the numbers never lie.
Part 4: They didn’t tackle well.
This is what hurt the Buckeyes more than anything else. While these corners were just about as good as it got in terms of man on man coverage, they did not tackle very well at all.
While Roby proved his worth as an effective tackler and cornerback, ranking second on the team in tackles, Howard had the lowest total tackles of any starter on the roster with 39.
Part 5: Finally, it was all part of the plan.
Ohio State’s defensive mantra was to stay away from the big play. While they struggled with this concept early in the season, later in the year they did just that.
The philosophy that Co-Defensive Coordinators, Everett Withers and Luke Fickell, came up with centered around allowing defenses to get away with the short passing game, treating it a lot like an extension of the running game. The problem with this was that the chunks of yardage were too large. Partnered with the fact that the corners had problems tackling, Ohio State was on the verge of a passing disaster.
Eventually, Withers, Fickell, the corners, and the defense as a whole got things figured out, and the Buckeyes were as good as advertised on the edge.
While the Buckeyes will certainly miss Travis Howard, and wish him the best of luck at the next level, if Bradley Roby can pick up where he left off, the Buckeyes will have no secondary trouble in 2013.
Let’s hope that next year, the questions will be few, and the Ohio State cornerbacks will provide the answers in the box-score and on the field.