ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After making the difficult decision to take a redshirt this season so that he could play for the Buckeyes next year as a fifth-year senior, Jonathon Cooper had to make another tough choice.
Having played in only three games this season when he announced prior to last weekend’s game against Penn State that he would redshirt this year, Cooper was still eligible – thanks to the rule change passed last year that allows football players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt – to play in one more game.
Cooper was healthy enough to return to the field against Penn State, Ohio State’s final home game of the season, so he could have chosen to make that his last game of the year. He could have opted to play in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin next weekend or save his final game of eligibility for the Buckeyes’ likely berth in the College Football Playoff.
Ultimately, though, Cooper felt most compelled to play in Saturday’s rivalry game in Ann Arbor and help lead the Buckeyes to their eighth straight win over Michigan.
“I feel like this game would mean more to just me and my brothers. To end the regular season undefeated, I wanted to make sure that I gave everything I got,” Cooper said. “I was feeling really good this week, had a pretty good practice and I asked the coaches if I could do this one. … I felt something inside of me that said this should be the one, and I’m very happy that I made that decision.”
Cooper made the decision to redshirt after missing most of the regular season due to a high-ankle sprain that he suffered in practice less than two weeks before the start of the season. He acknowledged after Saturday’s game that it has been “very, very tough” to be unable to be on the field much after he entered this season with high expectations for his senior year.
By taking advantage of the new redshirt rule, though, Cooper has the opportunity to return next season with hopes of playing a full, healthy season in which he could both make a bigger impact for the Buckeyes and bolster his NFL draft stock. His return should be valuable to Ohio State’s defensive line next year, too, as Chase Young will almost certainly enter the NFL draft after this season while the Buckeyes will also lose a trio of fifth-year senior leaders in defensive tackles DaVon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and Robert Landers.
That’s why Cooper remains steadfast in his decision even though it isn’t necessarily too late to change his mind and play the rest of the year.
“Before I made my decision, I made sure that I was satisfied with whether I had a really great game or whether I didn’t, that I’m going to stay committed to my decision,” Cooper said. “So yeah, it could be enticing; yeah, I could still come back; but I feel like what’s best for me and also for the team and just my family would still be redshirting.”
Cooper made his fourth start of the year for the Buckeyes on Saturday and recorded three tackles, including his first and only sack of the season. Most importantly, though, Cooper helped the Buckeyes to a 56-27 win over their rivals, a special way for Cooper to finish what will be an abbreviated playing season for him.
“I honestly wasn’t going into this game thinking like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make this big-time play or big-time sack.’ Just every single week, whether I’m playing or not, I’m gonna make sure that I give everything to this team, everything that I have, whether that’s on the field or off the field, and I’m happy that I made that play,” Cooper said. “It means the world to me that my teammates were here and I stepped up for them.”
Always do it for my brothers man. Thank you buckeye nation Ill be back next year— Jonathon Cooper (@JonathonCooper7) December 1, 2019
Wilson Makes Big Plays, One Big Mistake
A true freshman wide receiver stepped up to help Ohio State’s offense thrash Michigan’s defense for the second year in a row. This year, it was Garrett Wilson, who demonstrated with three big plays why he was a five-star recruit.
His first big play came on the opening drive of the second quarter, when he used his speed to turn a short dump-off pass on a crossing route into a 41-yard gain. His second big play was perhaps his most spectacular, when he turned back and adjusted to a slightly underthrown deep ball and made a 47-yard catch, with a Michigan defensive back running right alongside him, as he went to the ground.
Both of those plays got the Buckeyes into the red zone and set up touchdown runs by J.K. Dobbins. Then, in the third quarter, Wilson got a touchdown of his own when he made a spinning catch at the back of the end zone – on Justin Fields’ first play back in the game after leaving briefly due to a knee injury – from 30 yards out.
Wilson’s 118 receiving yards were the most of his young Ohio State career to date and led all Buckeye receivers on Saturday.
Olave, who had his own spectacular performance as a true freshman with two touchdown catches and a blocked punt in Ohio State’s 62-39 win over Michigan in 2018, wasn’t surprised by his teammate’s big day.
“Garrett’s the most talented receiver we’ve got,” said Olave, who leads the Buckeyes in receiving yards and touchdowns this season and had a 57-yard touchdown catch of his own on Saturday. “With his limited role this year, he had a big game today, and I’m proud of him.”
Wilson’s first rivalry game performance certainly wasn’t perfect. For the second time in three weeks, Wilson – who wore No. 18 on punt returns on Saturday because Baron Browning was on the field with the punt block team, but stayed in his usual No. 5 on offense – muffed a punt to give the opponent the ball in Ohio State’s territory. His frustration with himself was evident after the mistake, as he jumped up into the air then dropped to the ground and punched the turf with both fists.
Given that he also had a muffed punt against Rutgers, Ohio State will be forced to consider whether Wilson should continue in that role, but his plays on the receiving end on Saturday made it clear how talented he is.
Ohio State slot cornerback Shaun Wade did not play in Saturday’s game after being listed as a game-time decision. While Wade went through pregame warmups with the first-team defense, the Buckeyes ultimately decided to hold him out of the game due to an undisclosed injury.
While the Buckeyes started the game with four linebackers and only two cornerbacks on the field, their early three-cornerback lineup consisted of Jeff Okudah and Sevyn Banks as the outside cornerbacks with Damon Arnette, who started opposite Okudah, shifting inside to the slot.
In the second quarter, the Buckeyes shifted to playing Amir Riep at slot cornerback in place of Wade, keeping Arnette at outside cornerback. Arnette left the game after suffering an apparent injury of his own in the third quarter, though, and did not return.
Cameron Brown also mixed into the lineup at cornerback, first as a fourth cornerback in the Buckeyes’ four-cornerback packages and later in rotation with Banks in place of Arnette.
Another backup defensive back who saw more playing time in the secondary than usual on Saturday was Marcus Hooker. While Jordan Fuller was on the field for every snap until Ohio State’s final defensive series of the game, Hooker also mixed in to play as a second safety on 15 additional plays – one of the adjustments the Buckeyes made on their defense after allowing Shea Patterson to throw for 250 yards in the first half of Saturday’s game.
As of now, it remains uncertain whether Wade or Arnette will be ready to return to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.