A Favorable Lineup of Opposing Quarterbacks Should Aid Inexperienced Buckeye Secondary in 2020

By Andrew Ellis on May 2, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Sean Clifford may be Ohio State's stiffest challenge in 2020.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The opposition isn't the most imposing.

As we wait for more information on the 2020 college football season and sports world as a whole, the outlook for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes continues to be positive. Ohio State currently has the second-best national title odds behind only Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers. 

We know what to expect with Justin Fields and the passing attack, and the addition of Trey Sermon helped to answer some questions in Tony Alford's backfield. Defensively, the return of Kerry Coombs was the best possible move after Jeff Hafley's departure, but there are still some lingering concerns for the young and fairly inexperienced Buckeye secondary. 

A look at Ohio State's 2020 schedule includes the headliners that we've touched on a bit already. The Sept. 12 trip to Autzen will be the most difficult non-conference road trip since the 2016 game in Norman. Within the conference, home games against Iowa and Michigan – along with a very important journey to Beaver Stadium – should be the biggest challenges. 

Outside of Shaun Wade, Coombs will be dealing with a young secondary that'll likely include new starters in Josh Proctor, Cam Brown, and Sevyn Banks. The latter two saw the field a decent amount in 2019, but Proctor's ability to replace Jordan Fuller is a key storyline in the secondary. 

Fortunately, the upcoming schedule is a favorable one in terms of quarterback play. The usual suspects like Rutgers and Illinois rarely ever strike fear into defenses, and Bowling Green lost its 2019 starter to the transfer portal. Somehow, it was the third-straight season the Falcons have seen their starter transfer. 

Noteworthy Opponents
OREGON Tyler Shough RS SO 12/15, 144 yards, 3 TD Justin Herbert
IOWA Spencer Petras RS SO 6/11, 25 yards, 0 TD Nate Stanley
MICHIGAN STATE Rocky Lombardi/Theo Day RS JR/RS SO 75/175, 812 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT Brian Lewerke
PENN STATE Sean Clifford RS JR 194/326, 2,849 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT Clifford
NEBRASKA Adrian Martinez JR 373/598, 4,573 yards, 27 TD, 17 INT Martinez
INDIANA Michael Penix Jr. RS SO 131/194, 1,613 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT Penix/Peyton Ramsey
MICHIGAN Dylan McCaffrey/Joe Milton RS JR/RS SO 24/36, 359 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT Shea Patterson

Assuming the full 2020 slate takes place, the Buckeye defense will likely only have to face a pair of seasoned quarterbacks. That could be a nice bit of good news for a secondary that will be replacing three starters; including two first-round draft picks.

The trip to Happy Valley will inevitably be one of the biggest games of the season, but Cincinnati native Sean Clifford struggled immensely against the 2019 defense, completing 10 of 17 passes for just 71 yards. Penn State actually moved the ball much better when dual-threat backup Will Levis took over after Clifford left with an injury. The loss of K.J. Hamler won't help things for the PSU passing attack.

Nebraska's Adrian Martinez is the other veteran under center, but the junior's career has gone the wrong direction following a nice debut in 2018. As a sophomore, Martinez's completion percentage and touchdown passes both went down while the number of interceptions increased. He's also rushed for over 1,200 yards and 15 scores and is always a threat with his legs.

The Ducks landed a transfer from Boston College's Anthony Brown, and he's eligible immediately in Eugene. Brown was a three-year starter for the Eagles, but it's tough to imagine him taking the starting gig from Tyler Shough; especially with the lack of spring practices. Shough grew up a fan of the Wolverines, nearly committed to Michigan, and ended up flipping from North Carolina to Oregon.

Kirk Ferentz is now without Nate Stanley, and Spencer Petras has only thrown 11 passes in his career. Ohio State is 46-16-3 all-time against the Hawkeyes and will finally have the chance to avenge the 2017 defeat. Mel Tucker has a quarterback battle on his hands in East Lansing and some think Theo Day may get the nod over Rocky Lombardi. While spelling Brian Lewerke, Lombardi has completed less than 43 percent of his pass attempts.

It's probably fair to call Michael Penix Jr. a veteran at this point, but injuries have plagued his days in Bloomington. Penix was the starter in 2019 and helped get the Hoosiers off to a 7-2 start before a season-ending shoulder injury. He didn't play in the game against Ohio State and Peyton Ramsey saw most of the action after he went down. Health is always a concern for him, but he's expected to start 2020 under center with Utah transfer Jack Tuttle serving as the backup. 

The quarterback derby in Ann Arbor was expected to be one of the top stories of the spring and summer months. Shea Patterson never lived up to the hype as Jim Harbaugh has proved to be anything but a quarterback whisperer. No one seems to know if it'll be Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton in 2020, but it's not going to be easy after losing four starters along the offensive line. 

Kerry Coombs and the Buckeye secondary will have a new feel to it this season, but the schedule actually sets up quite nicely. What about a potential matchup in Indy with Tanner Morgan, Rashod Bateman, and the Golden Gopher passing game? That could be an entirely different kind of challenge.

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