On an otherwise dismal day for Illinois last year against Ohio State, Illini linebacker Tre Watson shone bright with seven solo tackles, two for loss, including a sack. He was a great player on a mediocre team who at season’s end sought a fresh start.
That explains why the Buckeyes are about to see Watson again, even though they don’t play Illinois this year. Watson gained his degree and transferred to Maryland, which plays Ohio State on Saturday.
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Indiana coach Tom Allen, whose team beat the Terrapins 34-32 last week, said the Buckeyes should expect even more from Watson.
“He is playing really, really well,” Allen said. “We played against him last year at Illinois, and for me to be able to see his growth, he looks like a different player.”
As Allen said, “sometimes you get a fresh start, new place, new scenery, new opportunities” and things click. Such has been the case for Watson.
“He’s all over the place, very physical. He’s had several interceptions through the course of the season,” Allen said. “You could tell he was their leader as a grad transfer going there.”
Watson is tied for third in the nation with five interceptions and leads Maryland with 98 tackles. And those are just the impact stats, interim coach Matt Canada said.
“He has been a huge addition to our football team, our entire program, and obviously defensively for sure,” Canada said.
A program that has had well-publicized problems off the field this season has looked to Watson, the new guy, to be one of its leaders.
“I think he has come in and really earned the respect of the team,” Canada said. “Anytime a guy transfers, as we all know there is a process of kind of becoming part of the team. I think he has handled it extremely well. He has earned the respect.
“He is a leader by nature, so he does a good job leading our defense and helping lead our football team for only being here such a short time.”