Ohio State's Shaun Wade eager for chance to cover Heisman winner DeVonta Smith
Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade grinned as the question was asked by a reporter on a Zoom call earlier this week.
As he prepared to face a dynamic cast of Alabama receivers in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night, was there a particular matchup he sought?
“You already know who I want to go up against at the end of the day,” Wade said.
It was DeVonta Smith, who on Tuesday won the Heisman Trophy, the first receiver in almost three decades to snag college football’s most prestigious award.
As the Crimson Tide steamrolled its way through an unbeaten regular season, few secondaries proved capable of slowing Smith. He torched most of them.
In eight of the team’s final 10 games, the speedy receiver finished with 100 or more receiving yards. Four times, he had double-digit receptions.
The only blip came in a win over Arkansas on Dec. 12 when he caught just three passes for 22 yards, though he still made his impact by returning a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.
“DeVonta is a great player, quick and shifty and fast,” Wade said. “You see it on his highlights. He can do everything in the book as a receiver, and just really looking for that matchup.”
In moving to outside corner this season, Wade has become the Buckeyes’ top cover player and has shadowed the opponent's top receivers.
At times, his coverage has been tight. He kept enough receivers from reeling off big plays late in the season that he was named the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year. But Smith will be the biggest challenge the Buckeyes have faced this season.
“It’s way more than just being a guy who can run fast,” defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “He runs great routes. He catches the ball. He high-points the ball, catches it in his hands. You know, he catches short balls and makes some big plays. He catches obviously the deep balls as well as anybody that we've gone against.
“He's a blocker. He's a team guy. He's involved in every phase of our offense. I appreciate good players. He's a great player.”
Wade was also challenged in last Friday’s semifinal win over Clemson, surrendering two touchdowns to senior receiver Cornell Powell. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence finished with 400 passing yards.
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Against premier quarterbacks in the playoff, Wade viewed some of the points scored as inevitable.
“Playing against teams like this, they're going to end up scoring,” he said. “That's a part of game. You see it in the NFL. Everybody scores. You barely see a game where a team scores zero points.
“So (in) games like this, you just got to get your stops, and make sure you get to your stops on third down, so that's what we focus on. We focus on just playing every play, playing each play one at a time and not focusing on the next play in the past.”
A matchup with Smith comes with similar challenges, if not greater ones. It will be even more difficult to slow the Heisman winner if Alabama has Jaylen Waddle back from an ankle injury, adding another receiving threat to their offense and dividing the attention of the Buckeyes’ secondary.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Thursday that Waddle is expected to be game-time decision for the title game, but he has practiced with the team in recent days. He has been out for more than two months after injuring his ankle at Tennessee on Oct. 24.
Wade said recent practice repetitions will help prepare him and others for the challenge. He views teammate Chris Olave as “one of the greatest receivers in college football” and considers their matchups in practice as excellent preparation.
“Going against him and competing against them every day, I feel like Olave and DeVonta have some similarities in height and length and stuff like that,” Wade said. “Them making me better, I'm making them better, and we just keep on competing.”