Ohio State's 2020 pass defense ranked 122nd out of 127 teams.
You can blame Kerry Coombs and the schematics, the loss of talent from 2019, Shaun Wade switching positions, or even the COVID-19 pandemic. But Ohio State's pass defense was far and away the team's biggest issue in 2020.
It was likely a combination of all the above factors that caused the Buckeye secondary to go from the nation's very best to one of its worst. Facing two prolific offenses in the playoffs certainly didn't help the numbers, and Monday night's performance – especially the image of Tuf Borland isolated against the Heisman Trophy winner – is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of Buckeye fans for the next eight months.
It was a season unlike any other we've ever seen. Shaun Wade made the move from being a tremendous slot man to a struggling outside corner, and the departures of Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller were evident all season long. The pandemic took away valuable practice time and a shortened Big Ten-only regular season prevented some of the younger players from gaining valuable experience.
But this is Ohio State — the nation's "DBU" or "BIA" or whichever acronym one prefers. For the 2020 season at least, the Buckeye defensive backfield didn't come close to living up to that lofty billing. With Wade likely off to the NFL, is there any reason for optimism for 2021?
The first thing worth mentioning here goes back to 2018. Greg Schiano was running the defense and the main contributors in the secondary were Okudah, Arnette, Fuller, and Kendall Sheffield. Then, at the safety spot alongside Fuller, there were problems all season long with Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint both seeing action. That pass defense finished the season ranked No. 86 in the country.
Enter Jeff Hafley. The current Boston College head coach arrived and quickly got things turned around. With a new single-high scheme in place, Okudah, Arnette, and Wade all played like first-rounders while Jordan Fuller was perhaps the most underrated player on the entire team. That pass defense was phenomenal all season long, including the Fiesta Bowl defeat against Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, and Justyn Ross.
After his lone year in Columbus, Kerry Coombs was an obvious choice as Hafley's replacement. No one questioned him as a recruiter, but it was the Xs and Os and all that goes into running a defense that was a bit of a mystery. After this season, we're still left wondering about the direction of the Buckeye secondary.
Sevyn Banks actually had a promising season and is expected to be back for his senior year. Cameron Brown's injury was a major blow to the secondary, and he too will be back in 2021. Marcus Williamson already announced his intention of using the additional year of eligibility.
Josh Proctor should be the guy at safety. And then it's mostly going to be a group of first- and second-year players battling for playing time in the defensive backfield.
It's not easy to make an early impact at cornerback as players like LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. are especially rare. 2020 signees Ryan Watts, Cameron Martinez, and Lejond Cavazos basically had no roles as true freshmen outside of minimal special teams duties. Safety Lathan Ransom did see a bit more action and actually flashed a bit late in the season. He was on the field for 28 snaps against Clemson.
|Jakailin Johnson||CB||6-foot-1, 175 pounds||Saint Louis, Mo.||No. 47 (No. 3 CB)|
|Jordan Hancock||CB||6-foot-1, 170 pounds||Suwanee, Ga.||No. 67 (No. 4 CB)|
|Andre Turrentine||SAF||6-foot, 175 pounds||Nashville, Tenn.||No. 167 (No. 9 SAF)|
|Denzel Burke||CB||6-foot, 189 pounds||Scottsdale, Ariz.||No. 192 (No. 8 ATH)|
|Jantzen Dunn||SAF||6-foot-2, 178 pounds||Bowling Green, Ky.||No. 203 (No. 12 SAF)|
|Jaylen Johnson||SAF||6-foot-1, 200 pounds||Cincinnati, Ohio||No. 410 (No. 29 SAF)|
Kerry Coombs and Ryan Day will welcome six new defensive backs with the 2021 class. Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock are the most touted of the group and should at the very least provide some depth to a depleted and somewhat inexperienced unit. Assuming it will be all systems go for the spring and summer workouts, that would go a long way for the newcomers as well as the 2020 signees who've missed out on a lot of time.
We'll certainly dig into the depth chart projections once the NFL Draft declarations are made, but Coombs is going to have a lot of work to do between now and the time the Buckeyes kick off against Minnesota on Sept. 2. A good guess right now would be for Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown, Marcus Williamson, Josh Proctor, and Lathan Ransom to all be key cogs for the 2021 secondary. The return of a player like Kourt Williams – who was making a splash prior to his knee injury – will also make things interesting.
Shaun Wade had some tough times in 2020, but his expected departure would take away the most experienced piece of the Ohio State secondary. Sevyn Banks' emergence and Cam Brown's return should provide some optimism as we head into the offseason. But make no mistake about it, all eyes will be on Kerry Coombs heading into the 2021 campaign.