Individually, there aren’t many Ohio State players who have more riding on how they play during the 2020 season than Shaun Wade.
A highly touted NFL prospect who probably would have been an early-round pick in the 2020 draft, Wade returned to Ohio State for one more season for the opportunity to play outside cornerback, vie for All-American honors and potentially solidify himself as a first-rounder.
His first three games as an outside cornerback this season, after playing primarily at slot cornerback for the past two years, haven’t lived up to expectations. Wade was beaten for two touchdowns by Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson two weeks ago, then gave up a jump-ball touchdown to Rutgers tight end Jovani Haskins this past weekend.
Nonetheless, Ohio State is 3-0, and that’s the most important stat to Wade.
“Really, all I care about is just winning,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, you just want to win. If I play bad and we win a natty, I’m gonna be happy ‘cause we won the natty.”
Wade, who has been graded a champion for two of Ohio State’s three wins, acknowledged he does need to play better. In particular, Wade believes he needs to get better at playing the ball in the air. For the most part, Wade has been in position in coverage, but he’s given up a few big plays – as you can see in the clips below – because he’s allowed receivers to outmaneuver him in midair.
“These last games, I’ve definitely been trying to go for the interception, but I’ve been watching my film, just watching myself, sometimes I just need to go for the PBU, just break the ball up,” said Wade, who doesn’t have an interception yet this year. “Sometimes I get greedy. But at the end of the day, really, it’s just my body position and how I jump. Sometimes I’m jumping back, so learning how to jump into the guys instead of jumping back for the ball.”
The biggest difference in playing outside cornerback instead of slot cornerback, Wade said, has been being farther away from the ball. He’s had to defend more lengthy passes with balls sailing through the air, while there are fewer opportunities to make plays in the run game. But he’s been working every day on trying to master the intricacies of his new position.
Wade says he has gone back and watched film from last year of Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, who both were first-round picks after starting at outside cornerback last season, to learn from how they played the position. Of course, he’s leaning on Ohio State defensive coordinator and secondary coach Kerry Coombs – who’s played a part in developing seven Ohio State cornerbacks who have gone on to be NFL first-round picks – and Coombs is confident Wade will improve as the season progresses.
“I think that that’s part of playing corner at Ohio State, and having situationally, plays that you’re gonna have to compete on and contest balls,” Coombs said last week when asked about the plays Penn State made against Wade. “I have no worries about Shaun Wade.”
Because the expectations were so high for Wade entering the season – even Ryan Day said he thought Wade could be college football’s best cornerback and contend for the Jim Thorpe Award – it’s been a bit surprising to already see several big plays made against him. Wade has high expectations for himself, so he is disappointed whenever he gives up a catch.
“You’re going to be disappointed when you want to be great,” Wade said. “Even when I have a good game, I’m gonna know one play that y’all probably don’t see that I could have done better at. So I just want to get better, and that’s all I care about. Me getting better and this team getting better.”
That said, Wade doesn’t want that disappointment to be mistaken for a lack of confidence. Wade knows that even the best players at his position get beat sometimes and that he has to have a short memory as a cornerback. But he still believes he’s capable of being one of the best cornerbacks in the country – and more importantly, of helping the Buckeyes keep winning.
“At the end of the day, all corners have something to work on,” Wade said. “From the Jalen Ramseys to the Marshon (Lattimores) to everybody, everybody still has something to work on. You’re never perfect at corner. That’s just impossible.
“You’re gonna get caught on. The greatest got caught on. So it happens. You gotta snap and clear and play the next play.”