Ohio State vs. Penn State Notebook: Jordan Hancock and Jermaine Mathews Jr. Step Up at Cornerback, Miyan Williams and Chip Trayanum Split the Load at Running Back

By Andy Anders and Dan Hope on October 21, 2023 at 9:34 pm
Jordan Hancock and Jermaine Mathews Jr.

With top cornerback Denzel Burke out against Penn State, there were questions about how Ohio State’s pass defense would hold up against a five-star talent in Drew Allar. They didn’t miss a beat.

Allar went 18-of-42 (43 percent completions) for just 191 yards, a measly 4.5 yards per attempt, which would rank last among all collegiate passing offenses entering Saturday.

Much of that had to do with the performance of both Jordan Hancock and Jermaine Mathews Jr. in Burke’s stead. It’s especially impressive in Mathews’ case, seeing as he’s a freshman with no starting experience.

“I said the kid’s got moxie,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “I don’t think he knew how big of a moment it was. And that’s not a bad thing. He just went out and played. Made some tackles, didn’t flinch in the moment of truth. I’m really proud of him.”

Mathews, who entered the game whenever Hancock moved inside to play slot cornerback, had three tackles and one pass breakup in Saturday’s action.

“Super impressive,” Hancock said of Mathews. “A lot of credit for Coach (Tim) Walton too, he stays on him hard. The older guys, Denzel, have stayed on him hard. But he’s a dog. He’s going to be ready for – his future is really bright.”

“I don’t think he knew how big of a moment it was. And that’s not a bad thing. He just went out and played. Made some tackles, didn’t flinch in the moment of truth. I’m really proud of him.”– Jim Knowles on Jermaine Mathews Jr.

Hancock, who made his first start of the season and second start of his Ohio State career in place of Burke, was a mainstay on the field whether playing outside or in the slot against Penn State. He picked up five tackles, four of them solo, and a pass breakup on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

Hancock, who said he put in extra preparation for Saturday’s game knowing he was in line to play a bigger role, feels it’s a testament to Ohio State’s depth that its pass defense was still able to dominate without its star cornerback.

“We have a lot of talented backups that could start anywhere in the country,” Hancock said. “Safety, corner, nickel anywhere, so we got a lot of competence in our guys.”

That said, Ryan Day is optimistic that Burke will be able to return to action next week against Wisconsin despite missing the Penn State game with an undisclosed injury.

“He was close this week,” Day said. “So we’re hopeful to get him back for practice this week, and if he has a full week of practice, he’ll be ready to go.”

Williams, Trayanum get the nod at running back

Even though TreVeyon Henderson was sidelined for a third consecutive game, Dallan Hayden didn’t play a single snap against Penn State.

Henderson, who was listed as questionable on Ohio State’s pregame status report, went through warmups for the Buckeyes but ended up being held out of action for the third week in a row. Like with Burke, Day said after the game that Henderson is “close” to being able to return and that Ohio State hopes to have Henderson back for next week’s game against Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes decided just before this week’s game that Henderson should not play against the Nittany Lions.

That could have opened the door for Hayden to play a role in the running back rotation after he rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries against Purdue, but Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford instead decided to roll with the tandem of Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams for Saturday’s game as Ohio State continues to preserve the option of potentially redshirting Hayden this year.

“I checked with Tony going into the game, said ‘Trey's not available, where do you think we'll go?’ And we felt like if Dallan was available that we would consider using him. And Tony felt like those were the two best guys to go with at the time,” Day said. “And I trust him, he's the running backs coach. We'll reevaluate it this week and see if that was the right thing to do.”

Day and Alford will have reason to reevaluate that decision after Williams and Trayanum combined for just 84 yards on 33 carries, an average of only 2.55 yards per carry.

Williams was Ohio State’s leading rusher against Penn State, gaining 62 yards on 24 carries, just one fewer carry than he had in OSU’s first six games of the season combined. He was effective running the ball early in the game, gaining 48 yards on his first nine attempts of the day, but he gained just 10 yards on 11 carries in the second half.

Trayanum made his third consecutive start at running back but spent most of the first half watching from the sidelines after a missed pass block led to a third-down sack of Kyle McCord on Ohio State’s second possession of the day. He would return to action in the second half, but finished with only 22 yards on nine carries, though he added a 19-yard gain on a reception on the Buckeyes’ opening drive.

“We'll reevaluate it this week and see if that was the right thing to do.”– Ryan Day on playing Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams over Dallan Hayden

Stover continues to shine

Seven games into the 2023 season, Cade Stover is still on track for the most receiving yards ever in a season by an Ohio State tight end.

Stover gathered four catches for 70 yards against Penn State on Saturday, including two of the team’s four passing plays that went for more than 20 yards. The other two were caught by Marvin Harrison Jr.

“Probably one of the most valuable guys on offense,” Day said. “Marvin is Marvin, but after that Cade is right there.”

The most eye-catching play of the day by Stover came on a 30-yard snag over the top of Nittany Lions linebacker Kobe King.

Still, one of Stover’s biggest plays on Saturday came on a throw where he wasn’t the target. Stover ran a perfect pick route with Harrison crossing underneath to free the star wideout for an 18-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a crossing route that gave Ohio State a 20-6 lead with just 3:10 to play. Watch below as he sweeps up two defenders to clear space:

“When I first got here it was Cade’s third year, and at that time he was kind of bouncing back and forth between linebacker and tight end,” Kyle McCord said. “Just seeing the work that he’s put in the past few years, especially with Coach (Keenan) Bailey, the work speaks for itself. I feel like he’s been a very physical presence. I feel like he’s never lacked in the run game. But then just seeing the work he puts into route running and his ball skills, all that, I think it’s really starting to show.”

For the season as a whole, Stover has now caught 27 passes for 429 yards this year. He needs just 243 more yards to break the Ohio State record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end set by Billy Anders in 1966.

“Probably one of the most valuable guys on offense. Marvin is Marvin, but after that Cade is right there.”– Ryan Day on Cade Stover

Devin Brown, Ja’Had Carter leave with injuries

A pair of top backups suffered injuries against Penn State that forced them out of the game.

Second-string quarterback Devin Brown had to be helped off the field after suffering an injury on a 5-yard run. Used in a red-zone package for the second week in a row, Brown was stopped just short of the goal line and suffered an ankle injury in the process that led to Brown being carted back to the locker room. Fox sideline reporter Jenny Taft reported that Brown suffered a right ankle sprain, and Brown was seen leaving the stadium in a boot and on crutches.

Second-string safety Ja’Had Carter was also helped off the field and carted back to the locker room after suffering a lower-body injury of his own during an Ohio State kickoff return in the first quarter.

Day did not provide any updates on the severity of their injuries after the game. If they are unable to play next week, Tristan Gebbia would likely become the second-string quarterback behind McCord while Malik Hartford would likely be the first safety off the bench behind starters Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor.

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