SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – When Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was asked about Brendon White during the regular season, he repeatedly insisted that White had a role in the Buckeyes’ defense and that role could increase as the season progressed.
With White now headed elsewhere after deciding to enter the transfer portal earlier this month, however, Mattison could finally admit what seemed obvious from just about the beginning of the season.
“Sometimes when you have a different scheme, some guys don’t fit like they did before,” Mattison said during an interview session at the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday.
Although it’s hard to question any decisions that Mattison and fellow co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley made this season after turning Ohio State’s defense around from one that gave up 25.5 points and 403.4 yards per game in 2018 to one that has only allowed 12.5 points and 247.6 yards per game through 13 games this year, ‘Where’s Brendon White?’ was one mystery that often drew confusion from Buckeyes fans.
White, who played 472 snaps, started the final five games of the year at safety and emerged as one of the best players on a struggling Ohio State defense in 2018, surprisingly became a nonfactor in a more effective Ohio State defense this season. Despite the offseason hype that surrounded the “bullet” position in the Buckeyes’ new defensive scheme, White played only 176 regular-season snaps – mostly with the second-team defense in lopsided games – and didn’t even make the trip to the Big Ten Championship Game before officially deciding to leave the team.
Initially, Mattison – who serves as the position coach for Ohio State’s strongside linebackers in addition to coordinating the defense with Hafley – envisioned a rotation in which White would substitute in as the “bullet” in place of starting Sam linebacker Pete Werner in passing situations. Ultimately, though, Werner ended up becoming an every-down player for the Buckeyes, staying on the field in the vast majority of defensive formations while the bullet position never became a significant part of the defense.
“Usually what happens is when you have a big, strong Sam linebacker in passing situations, you put in an athlete that is like a strong safety,” Mattison said. “Well, if you notice, Pete Werner’s had a pretty good year this year and he’s proved that he could be that guy at the same time, so you didn’t get that as much. As the season went on, the same thing happened, and it just kept happening where Pete kept getting better, kept doing it and I think that’s really what happened.”
That left White without a place to play in Ohio State’s new defensive scheme, which utilizes only one deep safety – where Jordan Fuller has been a mainstay all season – and three cornerbacks in its base alignment.
Now, the question Mattison could have to answer to future recruits who project as similar players to White – like 2020 signee Kourt Williams, for example – is whether they will have bigger opportunities to play than White did this year. Mattison says the goal, though, is to find players like Werner who they are equally confident in playing in the Sam linebacker role on both running and passing downs – which he said Williams “definitely can.”
“You hope you’re recruiting guys that are bullets as well as Sams, so you say ‘Here’s what happens, in a passing situation, you have to be able to play man coverage, you have to be able to do this, you have to be able to do that,’” Mattison said. “The recruits that we’re recruiting would say, ‘Yes, I can do that,’ and we would say, ‘Yes, you can,’ and we’ll go from there.”
With only one year of collegiate eligibility remaining after this season, White opted to look for a new team instead of sticking around to see if he would earn more playing time in 2020. He hasn’t yet announced his next destination, but 247Sports’ Bill Greene reported Sunday that White is considering a transfer to Rutgers – where he would reunite with former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who led the Buckeyes’ previous defensive scheme – and that he could finalize that move as soon as this week.
Regardless of where White chooses to continue his career, Mattison hopes to see him do well and believes that he will.
“I wish him the best of luck. He’s a tremendous young man,” Mattison said. “And he’s going to be very successful. We just wish him the very best of luck.”