Jim Knowles Says Jermaine Mathews Jr.’s “Moxie” Has Been Evident Since Day One

By Andy Anders on October 18, 2023 at 8:35 am
Jermaine Mathews Jr. vs. Purdue

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles repeatedly used one word on Tuesday to describe cornerback Jermaine Mathews Jr.: Moxie.

“For a true freshman, he’s got a lot of guts, got a lot of moxie,” Knowles said. “He’s just talented and he’s shown the ability to make plays, so we’re confident putting him in there.”

It takes moxie, after all, to suddenly replace a star player in a game and perform well, as Mathews did on Saturday after Denzel Burke left with an undisclosed injury against Purdue.

With Burke’s status up in the air for Ohio State’s upcoming top-10 conference showdown against Penn State, Mathews is going to need all the moxie he can muster if he’s called upon for meaningful reps against the Nittany Lions.

Moxie, one could argue, is what earned Mathews his offer from Ohio State back in high school.

The Cincinnati native received his scholarship opportunity at one of the Buckeyes’ first recruiting camp of 2022 after a day of locking down some of the best receivers that the exhibition presented.

Mathews was then considered the No. 517 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings, a mere three-star. By the time those same rankings were released for the final time, he had vaulted to the No. 51 spot in the country as the nation’s No. 6 cornerback and No. 1 player out of Ohio.

“It felt really good,” Mathews told Eleven Warriors after receiving his offer. “It’s really hard to explain because it’s something you’ve been waiting on for so long. And then when it happened, it’s just like, wow. (Ryan Day) said I earned it.”

He committed to Ohio State one month to the day after earning his offer and enrolled the following spring.

It didn’t take long for Knowles to recognize something special in the first-year player.

“From the first day he arrived on campus,” Knowles said. “He’s one of those guys that has a lot of energy. Like I said, he’s got moxie, I call it. From day one he was willing to step in there and compete against some of the best players in the country. So when you see a young guy do that, you think he’s got a chance.”

Mathews put his talent on display to the world against Western Kentucky in Week 3 when he made an interception and returned it 58 yards for a pick-six.

Then came his call to action in meaningful reps. Burke came up gimpy after a tackle against the Boilermakers and Mathews entered with no hesitation from the coaching staff at Burke’s boundary corner role, rotating with Jordan Hancock at the position the rest of the time that starters played in West Lafayette. Hancock would take over when shifting outside from nickel to clear the way for Sonny Styles.

It’s particularly telling of what the coaching staff thinks of Mathews that he was thrust into the lineup on the boundary side of the field.

“(There’s) more isolation to the boundary, more press to the boundary,” Knowles said. “More help to the field with the big space and the time and distance factor. So things happen a lot faster into the boundary.”

Mathews also made two tackles against Purdue, both on kickoff coverage with the Boilermakers’ return man inside his own 20-yard line. He showed good recovery on defense to help force an incompletion on a downfield pass.

From what he’s seen already, Knowles is confident that Mathews will be ready to go this week if Burke isn’t.

“Jermaine is just – he’s got moxie, y’know what I mean? I’ve said it like three times,” Knowles said. “He’s just a guy you know is going to compete in those one-on-one situations. He’s a guy you can put pressure on.”

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