Ohio State retains faith in cornerbacks after tough game vs. Penn State

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson (5) makes a catch against Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade in the Buckeyes' victory last Saturday. Dotson scored three touchdowns against OSU, including two when covered by Wade in the fourth quarter.

When a cornerback is beaten on a play, there is no hiding. It just comes with the position.

Shaun Wade returned to Ohio State for his junior season instead of entering the NFL draft as a borderline first-round draft pick because he wanted to play outside corner instead of the slot and to show he could raise his stock like teammate Jeff Okudah did last year. He probably didn’t envision games like Saturday.

On three plays in the second half against Penn State, Nittany Lions receiver Jahan Dotson won battles against Wade. Dotson outleaped Wade to snag a deep ball and then made a one-handed grab for a touchdown on the next play. Later, Dotson beat Wade at the line of scrimmage and caught a pass for another touchdown, though Wade didn’t get help from the safety on that play.

Earlier, Dotson beat Buckeyes cornerback Sevyn Banks on a curl route for his first touchdown of the game.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said more credit should be given to Dotson than blame shouldered on the cornerbacks.

“I felt they played well,” Day said of his defenders. “On those two long ones, Shaun was right there. The kid just made two remarkable catches. That’s part of playing corner. They're going to make some catches on you.

“But overall, I thought the first two games they played well. I think there's some things maybe they'd like to have back in the last game, but overall we're getting solid play out of them.”

Wade was in good position on the first two catches. On the one-handed grab, Coombs said Dotson got away with a push-off.

“But that’s neither here nor there,” Coombs said. “I thought those two catches were really, really a credit to him. And then I think we have to play better on some of the other inward-breaking routes where he caught passes, and I believe we will.”

Coombs said he spoke with Wade and Banks on Tuesday. He reminded them that receivers catching balls is part of the game. The key is not to get discouraged, especially in a press-coverage scheme like Ohio State’s.

“If you're going to play corner, and particularly if you're going to play corner at Ohio State, you have to have a short memory,” Coombs said. “You have to understand that by the nature of the defense, there's going to be pressure on you every single down and you've got to step up and make plays. I have no doubt about their confidence or their ability to do that job.”

Hilliard’s status

Senior linebacker Justin Hilliard is practicing this week after not being permitted to play against Penn State because of an initial positive COVID-19 test. Day said Hilliard tested positive Saturday morning but a PCR test that detects the virus genetic material came out negative. But Big Ten COVID protocol required him to sit out because of the initial positive test.

Hilliard has battled through several major injuries during his Ohio State career, and Day described Hilliard not being able to play as “heart-wrenching.”

Day said he hopes the Big Ten will reconsider its protocol if a player follows a positive test with a negative one.

“We felt awful for Justin, and I know it's something that is being discussed and will continually be discussed to try to figure out ways to make it better,” he said.